As welcome as the news of Pete Carroll and John Schneider is, a familiar sense of uneasiness still hangs over the launch of a new season. The latest challenge for Schneider and Carroll? The status of Michael Bennett, the Seahawks’ disenchanted defensive end.
It has all the makings of a perfect feel-good entrée into the start of Seahawks training camp on Friday.
In the span of three days, the Seahawks reached new deals with the architects of their rise as an ongoing NFL power. Seattle thus assured that general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll will remain together for at least the next four seasons, ending any lingering speculation that linked them to other jobs in other cities.
Yet as welcome as that news is, a familiar sense of uneasiness still hangs over the launch of a new season. Schneider and Carroll may have had time to clink glasses in a quick toast before continuing to tackle their latest challenge: the status of Michael Bennett, the Seahawks’ disenchanted defensive end.
Can they keep Bennett happy without fattening his contract? If the answer is no, will Bennett make a statement by holding out when Seattle holds its first practice on Saturday? Is this finally the time for the Seahawks to relax their strict policy of not budging on any contract with more than a year remaining? Can Carroll keep all this intrigue and potential angst from becoming a distraction?
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Hey, there’s a reason Paul Allen gave these guys the big bucks.
Carroll’s biggest gift, among many, is his uncanny ability to keep attitudes positive and morale high no matter the challenge or potential pitfall. And Schneider has done a masterful job navigating the intricacies of the NFL salary cap and its built-in hindrances toward keeping teams competitive for the long haul.
But that doesn’t mean the land mines ever go away.
Two years ago, it was Marshawn Lynch, holding out for the first week of training camp until he coaxed some new money, about $1.5 million, by having roster bonuses and incentives become guaranteed. The Seahawks were so traumatized by the incident they made it back to the Super Bowl.
Last year, of course, it was safety Kam Chancellor who unexpectedly held out for the entirety of training camp and into the season. He didn’t return until after the second game, when he realized the Seahawks’ hard-line stance wasn’t going to budge. The Seahawks lost both those games, which proved significant when they failed to get home-field advantage in the postseason.
Now, the big question is how Bennett will handle what so far has been the Seahawks’ unwillingness to sweeten what virtually everyone agrees is a woefully under-market deal that doesn’t expire until after the 2017 season. At a $4 million base salary, Bennett is the 19th-highest paid defensive end, but in the top five in performance.
Such discrepancies tend to lead to frustration, even though, yes, Bennett signed the original deal without coercion. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch what he considers equal or lesser players making vastly more loot.
On Thursday, Schneider told a small group of reporters that he has no reason to believe Bennett won’t report on schedule. Bennett said last month he wouldn’t hold out. But he has also expressed his unhappiness in increasingly stronger terms, telling Huffington Post last week, “I’m just to the point where it’s kind of like, if you don’t think I’m valuable, then just get rid of me.”
There have been hints that Bennett might reconsider his declaration that he wouldn’t hold out, but it also appears that the two sides are still engaged in last-minute negotiations. Maybe it will all end happily with a restructured contract, but it’s hard to see the Seahawks compromising on their policy of no re-dos on deals with more than a year left.
But maybe it’s time for just a little wiggle room. Maybe Bennett deserves some reward for being the good soldier last year and reporting to camp despite his unhappiness, in contrast to Chancellor.
It’s hard to blame the Seahawks for not wanting to establish precedent for reworking contracts. But it’s not like there’s likely to be a parade of players in Bennett’s unique circumstances of being so grossly underpaid in comparative terms, commensurate with their performance. And for those that are, maybe finding a way to make these overachieving players happy while not blowing up the salary structure would be a welcome precedent as well.
Tricky questions, no doubt, with no easy answers. But it’s imperative for the Seahawks to figure something out, because this is a Super Bowl-caliber team that would like to avoid the 3-3 start of 2014 and the 4-5 start of last season. Any cloud that hangs over them is a threat to getting out of the gate strong.
Congratulations on your new deals, Pete and John. You’re going to earn them.