When the report first broke that Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett wanted to become an Atlanta Falcon, it nearly exploded the internet. Well, at least it exploded the corner of the internet that is populated by Falcons fans. Both the Seahawks and Bennett were quick to quash those rumors, however doubts about Bennett’s immediate future as a Seahawk have lingered for the seven weeks since, largely due to reports that Bennett isn’t happy about his contract. That of course begs the question: how aggressive should the Falcons be in placating Bennett by acquiring him via trade?
Although Bennett was quick to crush Calvin Hill’s initial report that he requested a departure from Seattle, one aspect of Hill’s tweet has yet to be allayed: the fact that Bennett wants a new contract. Bennett is roughly 14 months into the four-year extension he signed with the Seahawks last offseason. That deal paid him $28.5 million with $16 million in guaranteed money.
Since signing that deal, Bennett managed to lead the Seahawks in sacks with seven in 2014, and also tied for third in the NFL with 53 hurries according to premium website Pro Football Focus. That mark was only eclipsed by the league’s top two sack-artists: Justin Houston (56) and J.J. Watt (54).
Since signing his own deal, Bennett has also seen other pass-rushers receive lucrative contracts. Watt signed a eight-year deal worth roughly $109 million that included close to $52 million in guarantees last September. A week or so later, Robert Quinn signed a four-year deal worth $67 million that included $41 million in guaranteed money. Roughly a month or so later, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy signed a deal similar to Watt’s. All those deals were eclipsed by the monster $114 million contract that Ndamukong Suh signed this past offseason with the Miami Dolphins, which included $60 million in guarantees.
If one assumes that Bennett is at or near the top of the league as far as pass-rushers are concerned, he’s very underpaid and is deserving of a raise. Yet, that’s a pay hike that the Seahawks are very unlikely to give him.
The Seahawks have made it clear they won’t redo a deal until the final year of the contract (see Marshawn Lynch). It sets a bad precedent and would only lead to increased number of holdouts whenever a player thought he is being underpaid, which is frequently. which means that at the earliest, Bennett shouldn’t expect the team to even contemplate increasing his pay until 2017. By then, Bennett will be 32 and probably nearing or on the downward slope of his career.
Coupled with the Seahawks’ selection of defensive end Frank Clark with their top pick in last week’s 2015 draft, the Seahawks potentially already have Bennett’s replacement on board. At this point, Bennett sees his opportunity for the big pay day evaporating before his eyes.
Thus, Bennett’s best chance of getting that pay day will be to force his way out of Seattle sooner rather than later since another team won’t be as tight with their wallet due to less fear of setting a bad precedent. Especially if that team also has a significant need for pass-rushers. And of course, that’s where the Atlanta Falcons come into play.
With the team’s hiring of Dan Quinn, it makes perfect sense for Bennett to want to come to Atlanta. It was the presence of Quinn that helped draw him from Tampa Bay to Seattle in the first place. Quinn was the defensive line coach back in 2009 when Bennett first signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M.
Of course the Falcons should want a player like Bennett on their roster since there’s clearly an obvious need and fit for the Falcons. Even with the selection of Vic Beasley with their top pick in last week’s draft, they could certainly use another edge-rusher to play on the opposite end of the defensive line. Bennett would be perfect in that role because he already plays it in Seattle across from Cliff Avril.
For a team that has sported the league’s worst pass rush for most of the past decade, the Falcons being able to add players of Beasley and Bennett’s calibers in the same offseason would be a huge reversal of misfortune.
But should the Falcons trade for Bennett? Because there is still that all important factor staring them in the face: compensation.
What would Atlanta have to give up in terms of draft picks to pry Bennett away from Seattle? On top of that, what would they have to pay Bennett to make him happy?
The first answer might be easier to find than the latter. The Falcons probably wouldn’t have to give up as high a draft pick as many might think. Of course this is mostly speculation on my part, but I think Bennett could be had for a third-round pick, possibly even less.
Around the league, a lot of starting-caliber players are traded for mid-to-late-round picks. Look no further than the Baltimore Ravens shipping defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions in exchange for fourth and fifth-round picks in this most recent draft. In fact, the Lions also received a seventh-round pick as part of the deal from the Ravens. It’s likely that the compensation would have been higher if the 31-year old Ngata was a few years younger, but it goes to show that even some of the biggest names in the league can be had for mid-round picks. That should be no different for Bennett, who will turn 30 in November.
But the more difficult answer to find is just how much Bennett wants to be paid. Given his age, Bennett simply doesn’t deserve to get the monster contracts signed by players like Watt, Quinn, McCoy and Suh. Quinn is just little more than a week from his 25th birthday. Suh is the oldest, having turned 28 this offseason. They’re all elite players in the primes of their careers, thus earning their elite pay.
Despite production that might suggest otherwise, neither aspect of that statement is true for Bennett. To find a more comparable player to Bennett, you’d have to look at someone like DeMarcus Ware, who signed a three-year deal worth $30 million last offseason with the Denver Broncos when he was 31 years old. That deal included $20 million in guaranteed money. Also as another comparison, Cameron Wake signed a five-year deal worth $35 million with $17 million guaranteed at age 30 back in 2012 with the Dolphins.
Realistically, the Falcons might be able to convince themselves that like Ware, Bennett is worth $10 million annually, but probably couldn’t exceed more than $25 to $30 million in guaranteed money on any deal. Basically, their best offer might be to give him a comparable contract to what Ware signed yet have most if not all of it guaranteed.
So now that I’ve speculated my way into outlining the parameters for a potential trade and new contract for Bennett, when can this blockbuster deal be expected to go down?
That’s a bit harder to figure out. Right now, Bennett is boycotting voluntary minicamps in Seattle but their mandatory camp doesn’t start until June 16. Even if Bennett opted to sit out then to let the team know he’s serious about holding out, it still would be unlikely that prompts Seattle to make a move.
It would only be during training camp in August, where a potential Bennett holdout might push the Seahawks to try and make a trade happen. Until then, it’s just a game of chicken and the team has no reason to swerve.
The chances that the Seahawks give Bennett a new contract between now and 2017 are roughly zero. And the teams’ stance will be along the lines of expecting him to honor his contract and having no inclination of changing their minds between now and then. And so the only real leverage that Bennett has is to basically making the decision to not honor his contract by not showing up for minicamps, training camp and potentially the regular season.
Now that’s going to be a difficult decision for Bennett, who will have to report 30 days before the start of the regular season or else he’ll lose a year towards free agency. That of course would only hurt his chances of getting a lucrative pay day down the road because he’ll be a year older when he finally gets that opportunity.
His only hope is that he causes such a ruckus with his holdout that the Seahawks grow tired of it and opt to just ship him off to be someone else’s headache. But unless Clark comes out and plays well right from the jump, there’s really no reason why they would reach that conclusion. Because even though Bennett may not be an elite pass-rusher, he’s still a very good one and that will remain an extremely valuable commodity in the NFL for the foreseeable future.
Overall, the likelihood of Bennett being dealt by the Seahawks any time soon is fairly low. Bennett may huff and puff until then, but when all is said and done, he’ll likely report for duty when the time comes in August, if not much earlier. After that point, then the only hope for a Bennett trade becomes that something drastically changes the status quo so that the Seahawks try to move him ahead of the trading deadline in early November.
The only thing that might be able to grease the wheels between now and then is if the Falcons themselves make an offer the Seahawks can’t refuse, which would likely entail offering much more than a mid-round pick as compensation.
Given the promising future potentials of players like Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman, I don’t see the Falcons willing to take that next step. And thus unless the Falcons give up on one or more of those young defensive linemen in the next six months, the team is likely to stand pat. That doesn’t mean the team won’t try and enhance its pass rush over the next six months, but it’s very unlikely to be willing to pay the necessary price of an arm and/or leg to acquire Bennett and also compensate him financially.
Not to mention, the Falcons are unlikely to up the ante until the Seahawks make it clear that Bennett is on the trading block. But again, for the reasons I outlined above, it’s unlikely that the situation will reach that point anytime soon.
So in the end, the possibility of the Falcons trading for Bennett in the calendar year of 2015 seems extremely low. However, the possibility of such a trade happening in 2016 is another story and it’s possible this subject might be up for discussion nine months from now…
Click here to read more on Jason La Canfora’s story about the possibility of trades in the near future.