Bennett Deal Has Everything to Do with Derek Barnett
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's one productive year and done for Michael Bennett and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The veteran defensive end will be shipped to the Super Bowl LIII champion New England Patriots at the start of the new league year, something first reported by Philly.com's Jeff McLane and confirmed by multiple league sources.
The Eagles will be getting a 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for the 33-year-old Bennett and a 2020 seventh-round pick. Philadelphia also garners back $7.2 million in cap space, the more significant part of the machination from its perspective.
Despite the very productive 2018-19 season in which Bennett contributed nine sacks after being picked up from Seattle, along with a seventh-round pick, for receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round selection, the Eagles were planning to release Bennett if they could not work out a deal to send him elsewhere.
The genesis of that was two developments, the re-signing of veteran defensive end Brandon Graham and the anticipated return of 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett from shoulder surgery.
Remember before Barnett went down with what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff Bennett was not happy with his role and the limited reps he was getting in a rotational system which also included Chris Long, a fact best exemplified by his small on-field dust-up with former defensive line coach Chris Wilson in Tampa early last season.
Only after Barnett went to injured reserve did Bennett's playing time and production really pick up. However, Barnett is expected to pick up where he left off as the starter at right end opposite Graham next season and Bennett's playing time would have been curtailed again.
More so age and Bennett's performance also play parts in the deal in that the veteran will turn 34 in November and proved he was a better player than Barnett is right now when given more rope to play with by Jim Schwartz.
Say Barnett starts slowly in 2019, the immediate reaction would be to point at Bennett's effectiveness from last season and question why Bennett wasn't getting more playing the time. The Eagles want to give the ascending Barnett some room to breathe and understand at some point the descent will come for Bennett as he reaches toward his mid-30s.
Furthermore the exit of Bennett also opens up a clearly-defined role for his friend Chris Long. It's a year-by-year proposition for Long at this stage of his career but the veteran again reiterated that he would like to play in 2019.
On clean-out day at the NovaCare Complex after the divisional round playoff loss in New Orleans Long told reporters that there was still gas left in the tank and felt he had an effective season but that fit and his role is the most important thing.
Long turns 34 in March and is under contract for 2019 with a $2 million roster bonus due on March 17 after an 18-game season [including the two playoff encounters]. It's not about the money for Long at this stage, however, and he contemplated retirement last season after the Eagles acquired Bennett, figuring there may not be enough work to go around with Graham and Barnett also in the rotation.
As for Bennett's ballyhooed personality, it turns out many of those concerns were just that. The Texas native proved to be an engaging personality who became fast friends with locker neighbor Long and also was a frequent participant in "Freestyle Fridays," the Jordan Matthews-led group which lightened the grind of difficult prep weeks with their hip-hop skills.
It is fair to point out that Bennett does march to the beat of his own drummer and is not a follower. Whispers of freelancing and selfishness on the field have followed him throughout his career and will likely continue in Foxborough.
The final nail in the coffin may have been Bennett's comments on the NFL Network Friday morning in which he intimated wanting a raise, essentially a confirmation that it wouldn't exactly be an easy thing for him to accept a lesser role.
"I feel like if you’re on the trading block, it’s part of the game. But I still know that I”m one of the best players in the NFL," Bennett said on "Good Morning Football." ... you understand that people want to acquire your services. [The Eagles] in a tough situation as far as the salary cap, I’m not willing to take a pay cut. I actually want a pay raise at this point. I just know at this point whatever team I go to I want to get paid more than I am now."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen