As the season wound down and the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, fans everywhere pointed to one man and said, “Now THAT’S a guy we need to bring back!” That man is Michael Bennett, because duh.
In many ways, the 2013 Seahawks – by the end of the season – were playing at an all-time elite level that even the 2014 Seahawks couldn’t achieve until the final game of the post-season. But, if you had to pinpoint one difference between the two squads – the one reason why the 2013 Seahawks failed whereas the 2014 Seahawks succeeded – it’s obviously the pass rush.
The 2013 Seahawks were good, but the 2014 Seahawks were great. The 2013 Seahawks had a Chris Clemons at the height of his powers and nobody else, which is why we struggled so mightily against Atlanta after Clemons was injured on that Washington D.C. “turf” the week prior. The 2014 Seahawks had a slightly less-effective Clemons, but also had a Cliff Avril and a Michael Bennett. We were able to come at the quarterback from all sides, which in turn propped up the numbers of some other guys, like Clinton McDonald and Bobby Wagner.
The key piece in all of this was Michael Bennett. Because he could line up at defensive end opposite Chris Clemons when we were in a Nickel and still hold his own against the run. And he could also slide to defensive tackle to let Cliff Avril onto the field, making that left side of the defensive line a non-stop killing machine. While he didn’t play a whole lot on our base defense, he still showed up on the field more than quasi-starter Red Bryant.
If the Seahawks only had Avril and Clemons, they probably would have been okay, and it probably would have been good enough. But, without Bennett, we wouldn’t have been as dominant. That’s why people are so afraid of seeing him walk away.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s probably a good chance he walks away.
I want him back as much as anyone, but this is the exact scenario I’m worried about: you’ve got a guy who’s getting a little up there in age, looking for his first really huge contract, AND he’s got his Super Bowl ring, so he’s all set. There are teams out there with more money to spend, who are willing to out-spend us for the rights to have Michael Bennett along their defensive lines. Michael Bennett’s not trying to do the Seattle Seahawks any favors. That having been said, there are some things the Seahawks can offer him that few other teams can.
For starters, we have an opening on our base defense. Red Bryant was cut for salary purposes, but I wonder if it wasn’t also a symbolic move, letting Michael Bennett know that if he comes back here, he’s The Guy. We also have an abundance of talent along the line, so we’re better able to give a guy some rest throughout the season. Michael Bennett doesn’t HAVE to play every down. And, over time, it’s going to keep him fresher late into the season when we need him the most. That rest is also going to quell any injury concerns we may have. Other teams will likely have to lean on him too much, which increases the likelihood that his shoulder problem comes back. We have the luxury of playing him just enough, to maximize his potential. Finally, we’re just a great fucking team. Yes, the money you make is an important aspect of any job. But, there’s also the matter of job satisfaction. Do you REALLY think you’re going to be in a position to win a Super Bowl in Chicago? Do you REALLY see Jay Cutler as a guy who’s going to lead you to a championship? Because when I look at Jay Cutler, I see a guy who is going to throw a ton of interceptions, making more work for an over-burdened defense; no offense to Michael Bennett’s brother.
But, like I said, he’s got his ring. How often do you get a chance to play with your own brother? Furthermore, how often do you get to be wooed by a dozen different teams? When will he ever get the chance to pick his own destination again? I’m sure he doesn’t have any family in Seattle; maybe that’s something he’s into at this point in his life. Maybe a team in a more weather-friendly city has an opening and a desire for his services. Maybe he wants to live in a big city like New York or Washington D.C. There are LOTS of reasons to not play in Seattle. And, if I’m a betting man, I’m putting my money on “The Field” rather than “Seattle”.
So, are the Seahawks ready? Can they handle not getting their man? I’ll tell you one thing: it’s exactly the reason why Chris Clemons is still on the roster. Word is, Michael Bennett will cost anywhere from $6.5 million to $8 million per year. You’re probably looking at a 4-5 year deal with maybe a $12 million signing bonus. If we did bring him back on that type of deal, it probably means the end of Chris Clemons. Which leads to the question: are we better off with Michael Bennett, or a combination of Chris Clemons and a free agent veteran?
A reasonable Plan B to this whole thing would be keeping Clemons, signing Justin Tuck or Jared Allen to a short-term deal, and extending Clinton McDonald. McDonald really made a step forward in his progress this past season. He could be that interior pass rusher that we’ve been lacking all this time. Reminds me of a Rocky Bernard type who could be good for years to come. If we do this – which is really just a quick reload for the 2014 season and ONLY the 2014 season – we’ll need to draft someone fairly high to be a pass rusher of the future. On top of that, though, it could shape up REAL nice for us to make a big splash NEXT offseason.
After 2014, Clemons, Avril, and any veteran free agent we pick up will come off the books. That’s what, maybe $25 million in free money? I don’t know which contracts are set to expire after the 2014 season, but I bet there will be a young free agent defensive end coming off of a monster season who will be ripe for the picking. Maybe instead of investing in Michael Bennett, we slap some duct tape and super glue on the 2014 defensive line and make a huge push for 2015’s white whale of a free agent.
But, that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. Pump the brakes, pal!
For now, I’d say Yes, the Seahawks are ready for life without Michael Bennett. All will not be lost if he decides to go somewhere else. There will always be veteran talent out there willing to accept a modest 1-year deal to play for a championship contender. And who knows? Maybe not signing Bennett will be a blessing in disguise.