An ESPN report that the Seahawks are shopping Michael Bennett combined with a quote from Pete Carroll earlier in the day to further fuel speculation that the veteran could be on his way out.
INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Bennett’s already uncertain future with the Seahawks became even more tenuous Thursday with a report from ESPN that Seattle is shopping the veteran defensive lineman during talks with teams at the NFL Combine.
Bennett’s future has been the subject of much discussion since the end of the 2017 season when Bennett said on several occasions he didn’t know for sure if he would be back with the team in 2018.
Coach Pete Carroll didn’t throw any cold water on the idea that team could move on from Bennett when asked about Bennett’s status during his press conference Thursday.
“I haven’t talked to Mike in a while now,” Carroll said. “But it’s the time of year, conversations going in all directions.’’
The ESPN report makes clear it is Seattle initiating many of those conversations when it comes to Bennett.
The Seahawks are also thought at least listening to offers for cornerback Richard Sherman and potentially safety Earl Thomas, the latter mostly dependent on if Seattle thinks it will have difficulty re-signing Thomas, whose contract expires following the 2018 season and has already said he would consider holding out if he does not get a new deal before the season begins.
The Seahawks would also love to find a trade partner for cornerback Jeremy Lane, who it has been widely expected will be released and who the team included in a trade with Houston for Duane Brown last season before Lane failed his physical with the Texans.
That the Seahawks could consider cutting Bennett and Lane makes it obvious the team would also consider trading them as getting something is better than getting nothing.
And while there has been speculation for weeks now about the futures of players such as Lane and Bennett, one reason Seattle has made no move yet is that it is thought to be waiting to see if a trade could materialize first — teams often are more open to moves following the Combine when they have better assessed what will be available in the draft as well as started making more decisions about their own rosters with free agency on the horizon.
Seattle also wouldn’t save much money with an outright release of Bennett, which would also be a further motivation for hoping to get anything in a trade. He will count $7.4 million against the salary cap in 2018 with the team able to save only $2.2 million by cutting him or releasing him.
That Seattle wouldn’t gain much in cap room had led to some thought that the Seahawks could still keep Bennett, who made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and was second on the team in sacks with 8.5.
But Bennett also will turn 33 next November and while he didn’t miss a game in 2017 he battled plantar fascia and knee issues most of the season — suffering the plantar fascia injury in an October game against the Rams — and rarely practiced, with the team obviously concerned that injuries could only become more of an issue as he ages. Bennett also missed five games in 2016 after having arthroscopic knee surgery and has also long dealt with a toe issue.
Bennett was also increasingly outspoken and involved on social issues in 2017 and also went public with an allegation that he thought he had been the subject of racial profiling and excessive force when he was briefly detained when Las Vegas police responded to a call of an active shooter at a nightclub in August. Carroll said after the season that what Bennett went through could well have impacted his play on the field.
“Would it have affected yours?” Carroll said. “Think about what he went through; and it wasn’t just on a small scale personal deal, it went nation-wide and all of that. He did his best to handle it and that’s all he could do. Whether it had an impact or not, I don’t know. Talk to Mike.”
That Carroll didn’t dissuade the idea during his press conference that Bennett’s future with the team remains uncertain was only going to fuel speculation that he could be traded or released. The ESPN report makes it even more clear that Bennett’s Seattle tenure could be close to over.
What’s almost certain is that something will have to happen by March 18, when Bennett is owed a reported $3 million roster bonus.
Bennett has been one of the Seahawks’ best players and most influential locker room leaders since signing as a free agent in 2013, teaming that season with fellow free agent signee Cliff Avril to solidify the line and help the team to its only Super Bowl title.
He has since made three Pro Bowls, in each of the last three seasons.
But in a year when Carroll has already made clear he’s willing to make sweeping changes by replacing his top three assistant coaches, more changes are undoubtedly in the offing.
“I’ll be fine,” Bennett said following the final game of the 2017 season in acknowledging there was a chance it would be the final game of his Seattle career. “Whatever happens, I’ve loved being a Seahawk. I’ve had a great career with the Seahawks. You just keep growing and keep playing the best you can. You love the organization and you love the players that you played with. I’ve won a lot of games. So if I’m not here, I would never have any hard feelings toward the organization. I love Pete Carroll and John Schneider and you just move forward. This is a part of football. This is a part of the sport. You move forward and play for another organization if you get the opportunity.”