Michael Bennett, the often-overshadowed defensive star on the Seahawks' defense, was recently asked about his contract situation and a potential holdout.
"Why wouldn't I be at training camp?" Bennett said. "Of course I'll be there. I'll see you there for sure."
First of all, before we dive into an analysis of Bennett's contract -- I want to take a moment to recognize Mr. Bennett. When players act out against our expectations as fans, we sometimes lose our minds. But when a player acts as expected, we typically ignore it.
Despite his contractual complaints, Bennett has been nothing but an upstanding teammate -- showing up to work over the years with his teammates in OTAs, training camp, and extra practices. He values the work his teammates have put in to make this team successful. So thank you, Mr. Bennett. I'm sure the fans, your teammates, and your coaches appreciate you.
Bennett is a key, underrated asset that gives the Seahawks' defense the pressure in the trenches required to force turnovers. Back in March of 2014, the Seahawks signed Mike to a four-year extension worth $28.5M. Bennett received an $8M signing bonus and $10M in fully guarantees. An additional $6M of Bennett's base salary was a vesting injury protection with deferral dates for full protections. As of right now, in 2016, he'll earn approximately $5M from the Seahawks and carry a $7M cap hit (the $2M different is the signing bonus he already received upon signage). His contract structure this year is comprised of a $4M base salary along with a $2M signing bonus proration and $1M in roster bonuses. In 2017, Bennett carries a $6M base salary, a $2M signing bonus proration, and $1.5M in roster bonuses. Bennett's cap hit in 2017 is $9.5M.
When his contract announced, the details that leaked seemed appropriate. The Seahawks believed Michael was an up and coming player that would soon make an even stronger impact in the trenches. Michael would soon blow those expectations out of the water and develop into one of the most menacing 4-3 defensive ends in the league. Naturally, his play on the field surpassed his contract value by a large margin. In 2015, he posted career highs in tackles and sacks. Additionally, he applied a league-leading amount of pressures on opposing quarterbacks.
With his skill level established, let's look at contracts given to players around the league similar to Bennett's skill level.
As of right now, there are 25 defensive linemen around the league who make more than Michael Bennett on an APY basis.
Players like Vinny Curry, Mike Daniels, Derek Wolfe, Jurrell Casey, and others all make more than Bennett. Ndamukong Suh sits at the top of the market making $19M APY. Bennett makes $7.125M APY.
With agents and analysts I've spoken to, it seems most team negotiators around the league view Suh's contract as an extreme outlier. Essentially, players who are negotiating new contracts with their team leave Suh's contract out as a comparison for pay and framework. In other words, Suh's contract is ridiculous.
Additionally, Bennett's total guarantees in his contract come in at 35.1% -- whereas players at the top of his position typically land a contract within the 40-45% range. Not only does Bennett make less than his peers on an annual basis, but also his guarantees are far below where they should be.
Now, this is not to say that he shouldn't honor his contract. He signed the contract. His agent negotiated it and he signed the deal. However, Bennett's play should, at the very minimum, warrant discussion between the team and his representation.
Additionally, there is one specific point of emphasis I want to make: I believe this is a unique contract situation. It is true that Michael Bennett is outrageously underpaid. However, historically, the Seahawks don't typically make major modifications to a player's contract until after the third contract year. John Schneider has been very specific about holding this precedent. The Marshawn Lynch contract holdout of 2014, where Seattle converted some of Lynch's bonuses into guaranteed money but refused to redo his whole deal, is the perfect example of this.
Said Schneider last year, in reference to the negotiations with Lynch a year earlier:
"The thing everyone needs to know in regard to Marshawn with last year, he was in the middle of a four-year contract — two years," Schneider said. "That was just all about precedent. It wasn't at all about whether we thought he was the No. 1 back or the No. 4 back or the No. 7 back when you're negotiating contracts. It didn't have anything to do with that; it just had to do with precedent. If we re-did a contract for Marshawn, everybody would be standing outside my office looking for a new contract whenever they wanted in their deals. He knows that, but he also knows he's a huge part of what we're doing. He's just extremely important to what we have going on here."
Just like Marshawn, Mike B is in the middle of his contract. The Lynch situation was also unique in the fact that he represented the heartbeat of the team - and was critical to what the Seahawks were doing. In the end, both sides won - Lynch got a reward and didn't have to pay fines related to his holdout, but for the Seahawks, no new money was added to Marshawn's contract. That was key. This is what Bob Condotta had to say:
"And in the end, each side could claim some manner of victory. The Seahawks held firm to their stance of not redoing Lynch's deal or giving him any "new'' money, having made it clear they did not want to set a precedent of ripping up existing contracts. Lynch, meanwhile, got the assurance of a little more money that he wasn't necessarily guaranteed to receive in the unpredictable world of the NFL."
So what's all this mean for Bennett as he enters year three of his four-year contract?
It means, almost certainly, that he will not get a completely new deal. That precedent is important to the Seattle front office, and Schneider has relied on it in the past.
However, if the Seahawks can somehow bump Bennett's guarantees without adding any additional new money, it might settle some of his concerns. This would avoid violating the team's new money precedent while also potentially calming his contract gripes. Considering Bennett's participation in team related activities, his unwavering allegiance to the team's success, his individual accolades, and his current contract value -- I am not opposed to the possibility of the Seahawks giving Bennett some sort of contract reward.
An ideal situation would be the Hawks slightly bumping Bennett's guarantees (like they did with Marshawn) in order to calm his contract concerns. Michael Bennett is worth the money.
Admittedly, I side with most teams when it comes to contract disputes. But this is different. Make it happen, John.