McMullen: Bennett is a symbol for the ‘new norm in Philadelphia’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Doug Pederson told you to "get used to this."
Championships are going to be "the new norm in Philadelphia."
The hyperbole and more than a few adult beverages were flowing back on Feb. 7 when Pederson and his Eagles were celebrating the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy in front of millions on the streets stretching from the team's day-to-day home in South Philadelphia all the way to the Art Museum.
If you thought the coach's words were just a throwaway designed to fire up a captive audience, a month to the day the Eagles proved without a shadow of a doubt that they were hardly shallow.
Everyone at the NovaCare Complex understands the team's championship window remains open for the foreseeable future.
By acquiring the 32-year-old Michael Bennett, one of the league's top disrupters on the defensive line with a decorated resume that headlines with a Super Bowl win of his own and the reality he was 1-yard away from going back-to-back, Howie Roseman essentially validated the thinking that the Eagles aren't satisfied with one Lombardi Trophy.
With the new league year set to begin in a week and Philadelphia already projected to be about $10 million over the salary cap, somehow the NFL's reigning Executive of the Year added a versatile three-time Pro Bowl defensive linemen to what already was considered the best front in football (and a seventh-round draft choice) by sending a fifth-round pick to the Pacific Northwest, along with little-used wide receiver Marcus Johnson.
There are concerns starting with the fact Bennett will be 33 in November and still has three years left on his deal, one that pays him base salaries of $1.65 million in 2018, $6M in 2019 and $7.5M in 2020.
While others wring their hands about money and cap space, however, Roseman has proven time and time again that roster building in the modern-day NFL is really only about two years at a time.
Worrying about the back end of big deals trumpeted by agents is a waste of time because most players, no matter how good they are rarely see anything other than the fully guaranteed money in their contracts, at least without some kind of tweak to offset those trumped-up cap issues, be it a restructure or an extension.
In the case of Bennett, the Eagles have agreed to take on $6.65M this year and will revisit things next March when the veteran will be a due a $1M roster bonus.
The other negative narrative surrounds some off-the-field issues, including an incident in August of 2017 where Bennett accused Las Vegas police of using excessive force on him at a nightclub, something the department has vehemently denied by releasing body cam video of the incident.
Bennett is also another NFL player, who has protested social justice causes by sitting during the national anthem, in his case citing the Unite the Right rally problems in Charlottesville, Virginia, something also close to the heart of Chris Long.
The Eagles, of course, scoff at that kind of white noise, secure in the knowledge that they have perhaps the league's strongest locker room, led by players like Malcolm Jenkins and Long.
When inexperienced coach Adam Gase was grasping at straws and buried Jay Ajayi on his way out of Miami, the Eagles simply took the powerful running back on at a bargain price and watched a "bad teammate" magically turn into a good one.
Pederson generally avoids compliments like the plague and often downplays his effect on what has already proven to be a championship culture, instead steering the conversation toward the cliche that winning cures all ills.
Anyone who has bridged the Chip Kelly era into the Pederson regime at the NovaCare Complex can plainly see the difference.
"Chip thought this was a coaches league," long-time NFL insider Adam Caplan explained to 973espn.com on radio row at the Mall of America back at the Super Bowl. "It's not. It's a players league."
With 14 years under his belt as an NFL quarterback before the much-maligned start of his coaching career at the high school-level, Pederson may have walked back into the NovaCare Complex as a first-year head coach but he was a rookie mentor who really understood what the NFL is about.
"At end of the day, you have to have players," Pederson admitted. "Players, players, players. This league’s about players. It’s hard to put a percentage, but I would say put 98 percent talent in the room and two percent coaching. But the coaching needs to be 100 percent of the two percent."
Bennett is one of those players who can make a difference on any game day, the best defensive lineman on the best defense of this generation.
He was a Brandon Graham-type player for Pete Carroll, someone who played defensive end but often moved to the interior in obvious pass-rushing situations. If anything, though, Bennett was even more effective than the Eagles' star, at least at the height of his career.
Bennett is more than a good player, though, and more than a piece that turns the Eagles' strength into an even more dominant unit, he's a symbol, one that signifies "the new norm in Philadelphia."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen