Let me start by saying that Michael Bennett is a good player. He was great last year too.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) March 7, 2018
He plays inside and out:
Michael Bennett is one of the most versatile D-lineman in the #NFL
2017 pass rush % by alignment:
— Aaron ☃️ Bloch (@PFF_Aaron) March 7, 2018
He’s got extensive playoff experience:
Michael Bennett in 10 playoff games:
36 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 FF
— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerr247) March 7, 2018
He did a little bit more than Brandon Graham, one of Philly’s best players:
Folks in Philly know how disruptive Brandon Graham was in 2017. Here’s how Michael Bennett compared (some help from @PFF on this)
Graham: 9.5 sacks, 45 QB hurries, 4 QB hits
Bennett: 8.5 sacks, 44 QB hurries, 16 QB hits
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) March 7, 2018
His “down year” is a top-15 defensive end year:
Michael Bennett was awesome for the #Seahawks. According to PFF he had 10 sacks and 70 total pressures. Also had 7.3% run stop% which is above average. Typically in top 10.
This was a “down” year by comparison and he was still really damn good lol.
— Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) March 7, 2018
And as of early December, he was perhaps the best pass rusher in the NFL in the fourth quarter:
Michael Bennett leads all defenders in fourth quarter pressures pic.twitter.com/G52e4QRxGF
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 9, 2017
For all intents and purposes, the Eagles just traded for one of the 2017’s best defenders, and a guy who has been consistently great since joining the Seahawks — while only missing five games in five seasons — and giving opposing offensive coordinators a litany of matchup problems. However, that brings up one question that is even harder to answer once you consider how good Bennett has been:
Why did Seattle trade him to the best team in the NFC?
Or at least, the best team at the end of last season. A team that they beat in November, but that managed to win the Super Bowl despite having Nick Foles at quarterback for the postseason. Why would the Seahawks make a conference rival … better?
One report on Wednesday said that the Seattle front office rejected an offer of a third round pick from the New England Patriots for Bennett and a fifth rounder because the Seahawks didn’t want to “look bad” after already telling the Eagles that they’d send the pass rusher to them. That may be true and it could be that John Schneider doesn’t want to sour his rival-ship (rivalry-relationship) with Philly GM Howie Roseman after the two have made transactions in the past, but it’s also a little uncharacteristic for the Seahawks FO to avoid the opportunity to add a pick on day two.
Now, if you’re the Seahawks, I don’t know how you turn down the Patriots’ offer. It’s obviously better. Plus Seattle would get Bennett out of the NFC.
I don’t really know how they turn it down either, looking at it from a surface level. Isn’t that sort of how trade negotiations work? A team offers you something, another team tops it, you go back to the original team and ask them to top the new offer. I’m sure that Roseman, being an experienced front office exec, would come to understand. He may even acknowledge that a fifth and Marcus Johnson for Bennett and a seventh certainly is a bargain-basement price, and up his offer a tiny bit. So the “Don’t want to renege on a deal” bit is something I can buy, but I’m not necessarily sure it is something that I do buy.
Why would the Seahawks trade Bennett to the Eagles if they knew — like apparently everyone else does — that it would make their rivals better and themselves worse? The answer is either very simple or comes with shades of nuance that only people within the organization can answer.
The simple answer may be that Seattle does not see Philly as a significant rival to them in 2018, either because they don’t think that they’ll be competing deep into the playoffs (a conspiracy theory of sorts going around is that the Seahawks are tanking next season because of the moves with Bennett, Richard Sherman, and potentially Earl Thomas), or because they don’t think the Eagles will be deep in the playoffs either, for whatever reason. I know that any Philly fans reading this will be very upset for me to type this sentence (not that I haven’t had my fair share of rival fans hating things I write about their teams) and some readers probably already are a little upset, but surely there is a timeline where the 2018 Eagles don’t make the playoffs.
The first thing they’ll hope to do is win the division for the second year in a row, something no NFC East team has done since Philadelphia in 2004. Some teams do struggle in the year after their Super Bowl win, including the 2016 Broncos, 2013 Ravens, 2012 Giants, and 2009 Steelers. The 2008 Giants, 2010 Saints, 2011 Packers also failed to win a playoff game in their “defend the title” seasons.
I’m not saying that I don’t think the Eagles are the early favorites to win the NFC East, or even the 2018 Super Bowl, especially considering that Carson Wentz will probably be returning to the fold and he’s much, much better than Foles. Philadelphia seems as good a bet as any, because I don’t even really think they were the best team in the conference last year and I don’t think they’ve even peaked yet. I’m saying that maybe the Seahawks saw an opportunity to weaken a very good team even if the evidence looks to be entirely to the contrary.
One issue that we know the Eagles are going to have is with the salary cap. Before any of these moves, Philadelphia looks to be more than $9 million over per OvertheCap.com. Adding Bennett adds $5.6 million to their 2018 cap, so that places them at more like $15 million over, per NJ.com. That doesn’t mean that the Eagles won’t make moves to get under the cap — we know that they have to — but that’s also sort of the point.
The Eagles will look to release or trade Vinny Curry, which will save them $6 million unless done with a post-June 1 designation. That gets them to $9 million again. Essentially, it’s Curry for Bennett straight up, as far as Philadelphia is concerned. Is 2018 Bennett going to be a better addition to the Eagles defense than 2018 Curry? By most accounts, the answer is “Yes” but I think all evaluations are done better when peeking on both sides.
Although his 2017 statistics (particularly, three sacks) don’t show it, Curry had a strong season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Curry had 47 total quarterback pressures on 333 pass rushing snaps. That is 13 fewer than defensive end Brandon Graham (60), who played on 102 more pass-rushing snaps.
Curry’s pass-rushing productivity was one of the best in the NFL last season, as PFF had him as the 12th-best pass rusher overall in terms of production per pass-rushing snap. Graham came in at 10th and his average production per snap when he was sent after the quarterback was essentially even with Curry.
According to PFF, Curry was the third-best defensive end in the NFL last season against the run.
It is possible that Curry, who is three years younger than Bennett and would cost the Eagles just about as much to keep rather than to replace, is a really good defensive end. Obviously Philly (and most of the NFL-watching world) would not say that Curry is better than Bennett but I would have a few things to add to that:
- The world, including me, the Eagles, and Michael Bennett, could be wrong.
- We don’t know how Bennett will do in the Philly defense compared to Curry, or how similar their roles will be.
- Curry may be getting better and Bennett may be getting worse (just a byproduct of age and snaps taken) and maybe they’re closer to meeting in the middle by next season.
The interesting thing is I think perhaps the most “valuable” player on the Eagles defense is not Fletcher Cox or Malcolm Jenkins or Brandon Graham … but Chris Long. Because Long’s cap hit for next season is just $2.35 million and he plays like a Pro Bowl edge defender. That would seem to be an ideal route for any team to go, asking “Who are the players being undervalued?”, and Bennett would not fit into that same category even if he does bring the experienced, veteran edge to a team like Long has done with the Eagles.
Bennett carries the cap hit this season that was mentioned, but also $8.75 million in 2019 and $10.225 million in 2020 if he’s still around. That was going to limit Seattle’s opportunities and maybe they did want to pass on those tough decisions to a rival rather than to a team in the AFC that they’re unlikely to face in any meaningful games or who won’t be getting in their way of a playoff spot. Maybe.
The other really important thing to ask is: Do the Seahawks believe that Bennett is more of a net negative to a team at this point than a net positive? Basically, did they “foist him” onto the Eagles?
Another report on Wednesday called Michael Bennett “a pain in the ass” for coaches in 2017.
We’ll have more on the Michael Bennett trade later in the column, but I wanted to address first what the Eagles are getting from the Seahawks: A player who isn’t quite what he was and picked his spots more than he has in the past, according to the three offensive coaches I asked about him. He was also a pain in the ass for the Seattle coaches. The good news? With the depth of the Eagles defensive line, Bennett will be more of a spot player there, and Philly’s locker room, on paper, is a good fit.
So — the way to not upset Michael Bennett is to … play him less? Is he going to be easier to deal with when he’s only maybe the sixth most important defensive lineman on his own team (Graham, Long, Cox, Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan)? (Don’t get me wrong: that does sound like an other-worldly defensive line.)
The outcome is likely that Bennett either makes Philly a little bit better or changes very little at all, but a third potential outcome is that the fit never comes together in a way that is beneficial to the Eagles and he frustrates coaches and fans. I can think of a few other “Rich always get richer!!!” scenarios that didn’t work out the way we all thought they would:
Sometimes players do not gel well with their new teammates, especially when they are known to have big personalities and are placed in a locker room with a lot of big personalities that have already bonded without him.
Sometimes players do not fit a scheme or a system in the way you expected them to.
Sometimes players play well and keep their heads down and still don’t make any notable impact, while the team itself goes from perennial playoffs contender to 9-7.
I think Michael Bennett is good. I think the Philadelphia Eagles are good. I think they got a good deal in trading for Bennett. I also just wonder: Do the Seahawks think that?
Or do they think they just foisted their NFC rivals?