When I started to write this article, the rumor was that Bennett was going to sign with the Bears. When I was a little more than halfway through, the rumor was that Bennett was going to sign with the Seahawks. It's true what they say: Rumors really do hurt the innocent. :( But I decided not to stop writing and I'm not going to edit what I said about Seattle not re-signing Bennett. They do or they don't, we literally know nothing real as of the time I publish this.
Also: It's possible that nothing is real.
Writers note number two: I checked Twitter, didn't see any Bennett news, published this article, and at the exact same time (as far as I'm concerned) the news broke that Bennett resigned with the Seahawks. Confirmed: Nothing is real.
So far it would seem as though free agency is going to mirror the outcome of Super Bowl 48: Defense wins. If the NFL were True Detective, then the free agent defensive players would be -- oh, you didn't watch the season finale of True Detective last night? You better get on that.
Speaking of getting on things, team are getting on players on defense a lot more than players on offense so far. Outside of the deals handed to Dennis Pitta (5-year, $32 million) and Riley Cooper (5-year, $25 million) plus a franchise tag for Jimmy Graham, teams seem to be a lot more active with guys that are paid to stop those guys.
The biggest contracts we've seen at this point are the ones signed by linebacker Donald Butler (7-year, $51.8 million), defensive end Everson Griffen (5-year, $42.5 million), cornerback Sam Shields (4-year, $39 million), CB Brent Grimes (4-year, $32 million), LB D'Qwell Jackson (4-year, $22 million), DE Red Bryant (4-year, $17 million), CB DeAngelo Hall (4-year, $17 million), plus a one-year, $13.1 million contract for DE Greg Hardy, a one-year, $9.75 million contract for LB Jason Worilds, and a franchise tag for LB/DE(?) Brian Orapko.
Hall is going to be 31 next season and has been mostly a disappointment in his career, with ProFootballFocus grading him as the 84th-best corner in football last season. Though "commitment" is a bullshit word when it comes to NFL contracts, it's still interesting that teams are willing to give a similar commitment to D'Qwell Jackson as they would to Riley Cooper. One of them is a 27-year-old receiver that seems to be on the way up, the other is a 31-year-old linebacker that appears to be on the way down.
Or it might just be that the Colts haven't been as savvy over the last two years as has been purported.
But teams are clearly paying defensive players right now in a way that they aren't paying the dudes that are supposed to score on them. And that won't be stopping any time soon. With free agency set to open up on Tuesday, there will be some big deals signed in the next couple of weeks and it wouldn't be crazy to think that most of them will be on defense.
Players that won't be signed by Seattle include corners Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner, Vontae Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Charles Tillman, Antonio Cromartie, and Captain Munnerlyn. Players that they might reach out to include Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, and Champ Bailey, who I think could be interested in playing nickel for the team that won the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks also won't sign a starting safety besides Earl Thomas, and so they won't be paying Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner, Charles Woodson, Antoine Bethea, Major Wright, or the other Chris Clemons.
Since they already have a pretty good set of linebackers, they also won't be signing Karlos Dansby, Brandon Spikes, Daryl Smith, Jon Beason, Jameel McLain, Calvin Pace, Shaun Phillips, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Keith Rivers or Mike Neal.
Instead, Seattle will be focusing on the defensive line in free agency, if they indeed focus on anything at all. While Pete Carroll and John Schneider have alluded to a quiet spring, especially compared to what happened a year ago, I don't know that they will avoid a big free agent signing or two. The Seahawks are in a position that no other team in the NFL is in: They're the defending Super Bowl champions. That's going to mean something to a player like Bailey, a veteran future Hall of Famer that hasn't won the Super Bowl yet and just came as close as he possibly could to doing that last year. He's said he's willing to move around the field if someone's willing to have him.
But that would be a luxury for Seattle as compared to reloading the defensive line, after Red was cut and signed by Jacksonville, and amid rumors that Michael Bennett is headed to Chicago. And that's only the beginning of the matter, since Chris Clemons almost certainly can be paid the nearly $10 million he's set to make next year and other players set to hit free agency on Tuesday include Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, and O'Brien Schofield.
As Jack Nicholson once told Diane Keaton: "Hey, something's gotta give, you guys."
I believe that the team was adequately prepared to let Bryant and Sidney Rice leave via free agency and so they gave them every opportunity to do so early. I also believe that they aren't as ready to do that with Clemons and Zach Miller, but certainly there could be other factors that I'm unaware of. Clemons at $6 million next year would be a lot easier to swallow, but we also can't ignore the fact that the last time we saw him play he still looked the part of what we had come to expect from him before tearing his ACL.
Whether Clemons is here or not, the pressure provided by Bennett still has to be replaced if he's not going to be here. With the salary cap being significantly higher than expected and the Minnesota Vikings giving Griffen a contract that would make Adonal Foyle jealous, I expect that Bennett has been priced out of Seattle's current market for "Michael Bennett." If Griffen is worth an Average Annual Value of $8.5 million, then realistically Bennett should be worth twice that much.
That's not what he's going to be paid, but if Griffen were the benchmark, it's what Bennett could be worth in comparison.
In 100 fewer snaps last year, Bennett had three more sacks than Griffen, 10 more QB hits, the same number of QB hurries, and five additional stops. (Numbers courtesy of PFF.) He is two years older than Griffen, but that hardly makes him old; Bennett is 28, Griffen is 26.
Despite the extra cap room from cutting Bryant and Rice, as well as what was unexpectedly gifted to every NFL team, I don't think that the Seahawks should give Bennett an AAV of $12 million. Or $11 million. Or even $10 million. He's worth it based on the market, but he's not worth it based on Seattle's propensity under Schneider and Carroll to find talent on the cheap.
Hell, look no further than Michael Bennett last year.
While there are other people out there that could tell you about some draft day bargains, I'm going to focus on some other options that could be had as soon as this week. Here are five guys that aren't Michael Bennett, but maybe they could provide the same amount of value... at less... value.
More "Pep" in Seattle's step?
Julius Peppers, 34
2013: 7.5 sacks, 31 solo tackles, three pass deflections, one interception, six QB hits, 27 QB hurries, 26 stops.
Peppers is the old man of the bunch and technically not a free agent, but nobody expects the Bears to retain him next year; Peppers cap hit for 2014 is over $18 million. American U.S. Dollars! They will save more than half of that by releasing Peppers and if they did want to sign Bennett, they'd need that extra money to do so.
Though it's only the fourth time in his career that he's had fewer than 10 sacks in a season, Peppers isn't finished. He only just turned 34 in January, and to use a modern example, John Abraham has recorded 21.5 sacks over his age 34-35 seasons. Bruce Smith played seven more seasons after he turned 34. Kevin Greene led the NFL in sacks when he was 34 (14.5) and he was effective for three more years after that. Michael Strahan was effective at ages 34 and 36.
When you look at players of Peppers caliber, you don't really find examples of guys who stopped performing at age 34. He's got at least three more years left. In 2012, Peppers had an Adjusted Value of 18, which was only behind J.J. Watt and Adrian Peterson for the highest in football.
What Peppers does not have is a Super Bowl title.
He made an appearance with the Panthers in 2003 when they lost to the Patriots. He went to the NFC title game with Carolina two years later before losing to some team I think I've heard of. Over the last eight years, Peppers has played in three playoff games and lost two of them.
Two of his last four playoff losses have been to Seattle, so why not come join 'em?
Peppers signed an $84 million contract with the Bears, one of the biggest in NFL history for a non-quarterback. I think that young players will always choose 1. Money 2. Money 3. Money 4. Money.
But Peppers is now at an age where he's probably thinking more about his legacy as a football player and that legacy has one gigantic Super Bowl Hole in it. Reggie White won his first Super Bowl when he was 35, could Peppers do the same with the Seahawks?
Last year, Abraham signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals that essentially pays him like a rookie. His cap hit in 2013 was $1.6 million and his cap hit next year is a little over $3 million. For his career, Abraham is not Peppers (though he has 14.5 more sacks) and he switched to outside linebacker in Arizona, but as of today he's arguably better than Peppers.
I think that despite his Hall of Fame body of work, a legitimate deal for Peppers right now would be a two or three year contract worth about $4 million per season. He's still effective and Seattle is a team that has the capability to provide him what he wants: A chance to win the Super Bowl on an elite defense.
Likelihood: 4/10 sacks. Doesn't "feel" like a Seahawks player.
Every "Jiss" begins with "J"
Jared Allen, 32
2013: 11.5 sacks, 33 solo tackles, six pass deflections, 18 QB hits, 34 QB hurries, 32 stops.
I could almost just repeat everything I said about Peppers and subtract two years when talking about Allen. The biggest difference will be the money, because Allen probably should be getting competitive offers that pay him like one of the best defensive ends in football over the next five years.
Because that's probably what he is.
There were rumors around the trade deadline that the Seahawks were exploring the Allen market in an effort to secure themselves a Super Bowl championship, but they managed to do that without him and without paying any of his ballooned salary. There was talk in another thread here on Field Gulls that Peppers and Allen aren't replacements for Bennett because they are edge rushers and Bennett is an interior presence, and to that I call bullshit.
In Seattle, and more and more around the league, "position" is becoming a liquefied term that means less and less as the years go by. "Talent" always matters more than the "position" you play and Bennett is no stranger to undefined roles on the defensive line. If Carroll looks at Allen or Peppers and sees an opportunity to inject talent on the defense, he'll do that and figure out their best role during camp, during preseason, and continually throughout the season.
Bennett led the team with 8.5 sacks last season. Cliff Avril was second with eight, and he's set to be a free agent in 2015.
This team doesn't need edge rushers since... when?
Allen has always seemed like the type of player and person that walks to the beat of his own drum and does value team success higher than other people. In his entire career, his teams are 1-4 in the playoffs. It seems to me like this is probably killing him. He's a high motor, high intensity guy that probably would get along with the staff and team and fit nicely into the defense.
No matter where that is.
It's just a matter of if they're willing to give him the contract that they wouldn't have given to Bennett if this article isn't completely crapped on by news of a new deal to Michael before I publish it. Despite being four years older than Bennett, Allen is a more complete player and hardly past the prime of his career.
Likelihood: 6/10 sacks. The more I think about it, the more of a dream scenario it would be.
My name's Tuck and I came to... Tuck.
Justin Tuck, 31
2013: 11 sacks, 41 solo tackles, four pass deflections, 12 QB hits, 44 QB hurries, 37 stops
I've heard of the overrated New York Giants before, but the underrated New York Giants?!?!
Out of the top 11-ranked 4-3 defensive ends graded by Pro Football Focus last year, five were in a contract season. The Panthers tagged Greg Hardy (ranked 3rd), the free agent market should include Michael Johnson (4th), Bennett (5th), Tuck (7th) and Lamarr Houston (11th.)
From that group, the biggest surprise to me was Tuck, despite the fact that one of those guys played for the Oakland Raiders.
Tuck is a two-time All-Pro (one time 1st, one time 2nd) that I had figured was wrapping up his career due to the fact that we heard nothing about New York for once, but he's younger than Allen and Peppers and possibly better than at least Peppers.
Tuck is an interesting option that I hadn't considered until just now but there are several reasons why I'm sure the Seahawks won't sign him.
He's already won two Super Bowls so he doesn't have the same motivation as Peppers and Allen, so he won't sign on a discount, I'm sure. He's also 31 and while age isn't much of a factor in my considerations for Peppers and Allen, it is a factor for Tuck. He's simply not at the caliber of those two players and that's because he's had a very inconsistent career.
Twice he's been an All-Pro, seven times he hasn't. And not just "he hasn't been the best at his position" but he's actually just faded into the background for most of his nine seasons in the NFL.
I don't think he'd be a bad fit on the defense, but his age and cost are completely at odds with the general philosophy we've come to expect from Pete and John.
Likelihood: 2/10 sacks. There are safer, cheaper, younger players. Let's talk about them.
Ayo for Ayers
Robert Ayers, 28
2013 season: 5.5 sacks, 26 solo tackles, 0 pass deflections, seven QB hits, 31 QB hurries, 22 stops
Ayers is probably the most disappointing player on this list in terms of draft position and career performance. He was the 18th overall pick in 2009 (Tuck was a third rounder, Allen was a fourth rounder, and though Peppers went second overall, he exceeded the hype) and yet his 5.5 sacks last year were a career-high.
He has made just three starts over the last two seasons and he's a part-time player that had half as many snaps as Allen in 2013.
So why did Pro Football Focus grade him as the 14th-best 4-3 DE last season? Well, Thomas Beekers would tell you that it's because those grades are garbage, and while he may not be wrong, let's at least examine why they did it.
The first thing that comes to mind: He was a part-time player. Take those numbers above and double them and ask yourselves what he's worth now.
Before you bring up the thought you're having right now, let me do it for you: You can't just double a players stats and call it good because he was only a situational player. And you're right. But that doesn't mean he's not valuable for those situations in which he does play.
Michael Bennett is a situational player.
If PFF's numbers are to be believed, Ayers numbers are almost on pace with Bennett's on a per-snap basis. How much older is Ayers than Bennett? If my subtraction of dates is to be believed, he's only two months older than Bennett.
Bennett is 6'4, 271 by PFR's account, Ayers is 6'3, 273.
Who is Robert Ayers? He might actually be Michael Bennett, but at 2013 costs. Not 2014 costs.
That's something you have to explore.
Likelihood: 6/10 sacks. The age is right and the opportunity for Ayers to parlay himself into a long-term deal next year a la Bennett could be too enticing. It seems like an fascinating possibility for both parties.
For Willie Young.... I-wanna-be... For Willie Young
Willie Young, 28
2013: 3 sacks, 29 solo tackles, five pass deflections, eight QB hits, 48 QB hurries, 31 stops
For all intents and purposes, Young is the fastest-rising free agent on the market right now. The more people start to find out about him, the more they want to explore the idea of what he'd look like on their defense because quietly he looked amazing on the Lions defense last season.
The Detroit Lions.
(I first found out about him via FG commentor and GIF-contributer Big Train, so thanks for that)
Young was a seventh round pick out of NC State in 2010 and spent the first three years of his career mostly on the bench. He moved into a full-time role 2013 and while his sack numbers aren't what you'd typically expect from a defensive end, it doesn't mean he was wasn't providing pressure.
48 QB hurries on 801 snaps. Five passes defensed. This guy was a real force on the defensive line, though I wouldn't ignore the fact that he played alongside one of the best defensive tackles we've seen in the 2000s. Good news: Brandon Mebane is a pretty good defensive tackle too.
Young is also two months older than Bennett, so age isn't a factor, but he'll come at an extraordinarily cheaper price. He may be cheap enough that it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'd be available even if Bennett was re-signed. Nobody expected Bennett and Avril last year.
The problem is that teams are paying a premium on potential right now unlike what we may have seen in the past. Griffen getting $20 million guaranteed this year or Desmond Bryant getting a $34 million contract last year. Young is possibly better than both of those players.
I don't think anyone would mind plugging Young on the d-line next year if Bennett isn't here, and it would be at a fraction of the cost.
Likelihood: 7/10. Maybe Avril could even do some recruiting here, as his departure from Detroit opened the door for Young and now a reunion could have positive effects for both.
If anyone thinks that Bennett isn't replaceable, I can guarantee you that he literally is. They will have to replace him with someone. There's plenty of good options out there and while we don't know if they will be as good as Bennett was last year, we'll either find out or we won't.
Maybe they deem that the only viable replacement for Bennett is Bennett. Maybe they decide that the best replacement for Bennett is the next Bennett.
There's a little bit of everything out there to be had on the defensive line, and as the defending Super Bowl champions, Seattle should at least be able to dabble in some talks with all of them. Feels good, don't it?