Simply put, Bennett was Seattle’s best defensive lineman last season. And he could be that again in 2016. But as training camp looms, Bennett also presents one of the few clouds hanging overhead. Will he really hold out if his demand for a new contract is not met?
With the Seahawks set to report for training camp Friday and practices beginning the next day, it’s time to continue to look at the players most pivotal to the team’s success in 2016.
Call it “16 for ’16” as we will count down the 16 Most Important Seahawks in 2016, unveiling one new player each day from now until the team reports.
The list continues with a veteran whose status remains somewhat uncertain with just a few days left until the team reports.
Player: Michael Bennett.
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Position: Defensive line.
2016 contract status: Bennett is entering the third year of a four-year contract worth a total of $28.5 million signed in March 2014. He is due a base salary this year of $4 million.
Expected role in 2016: Again anchoring the defensive line as an end in the base defense and a tackle in the nickel/dime sub packages.
Why he’ll be so pivotal to Seattle’s success in 2016: Simply put, Bennett was Seattle’s best defensive lineman last season, maybe the team’s best defensive player overall and one of the best in the NFL. And he could be all of those things again in 2016.
But as training camp looms, Bennett also presents one of the few clouds hanging overhead. Will he really hold out if his demand for a new contract is not met?
Bennett’s agent, Doug Hendrickson, has been expected to meet with Seahawks’ brass to try to iron out some sort of modification to Bennett’s deal that would pay him more along the lines of what he is worth.
Bennett is generally considered among the top five or so defensive linemen in the NFL, but he is currently the 19th-highest paid defensive end (and in the low 20s when considering all defensive linemen).
The Seahawks are thought to be sympathetic to Bennett’s cause but also wanting to keep with their stated philosophy of not redoing contracts that have more than a year remaining (the reason is mostly to avoid setting a precedent that would allow other players with more than a year remaining to then also demand a new deal).
Bennett talked about holding out last season but ultimately did not. He’s taken a more muted media approach this offseason, saying several times he didn’t plan to hold out.
But there are indications Bennett could be considering changing his mind on that front if he does not have a new deal by the time training camp begins (Bennett did not attend voluntary workouts in the offseason but did attend the mandatory veteran minicamp).
Unlike the Kam Chancellor situation last season, which pretty much caught the team by surprise the week camp opened, the Seahawks have known for more than a year that there could be a moment of reckoning coming with Bennett.
One obvious question is whether the Chancellor experience will impact how the Seahawks handle Bennett now. Chancellor’s holdout lasted through the first two regular-season games, each Seattle losses. There were lots of other factors at hand in those defeats, but undoubtedly the absence of Chancellor played a role, and helped derail a season that began with Super Bowl hopes.
Seattle’s Super Bowl prospects may be even brighter this season. Super Bowl windows, though, don’t stay open forever, and it hardly needs to be said the Seahawks would love to avoid anything close to what happened last year with Chancellor and the resulting fallout as they deal with Bennett.
One comfort is knowing that Bennett takes exceptional pride in his physical conditioning, so even if he were to miss a little camp time, there’d be no fear about his ability to hit the ground running (Pete Carroll might even argue that a veteran who plays as much as Bennett might almost benefit from a little rest early).
Still, even just the media attention and symbolism of any length of Bennett holdout is undoubtedly something the team would like to avoid.
Assuming something eventually gets worked out, then the Seahawks will count on Bennett to be the same productive and disruptive force he was last season.
The analytic site Pro Football Focus recently detailed how valuable it feels Bennett is to the Seahawks (while simultaneously, if maybe unintentionally, helping Bennett make a case for why he deserves more money).
Wrote PFF: “They have been able to rely on him being among both the most productive pass-rushers and run defenders at his position in each of the past three seasons, and they get that for a little over $7 million per year. Considering what the top pass-rushers in the league get, that’s an absolute bargain for Seattle.
“All of this doesn’t even take into account Bennett’s versatility, with the Seahawks using him across the defensive line and in various sub-packages. Bennett saw 565 of his 943 snaps last year lined up inside the tackles, and played another 37 of his snaps in a two-point stance.”
In other words, Bennett is immensely valuable to the Seahawks.
Just how valuable the Seahawks view him, though, will become clearer soon.