It's crazy to think about how well this current front office has done with undrafted free agents -- Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Alvin Bailey, Ricardo Lockette -- but perhaps the best UDFA to be signed by Seattle over the last five years came under... the Jim Mora and Tim Ruskell administration.
Five years ago, the Seahawks signed Michael Bennett to an UDFA contract and moved him from defensive end to defensive tackle. It's almost as if Mora knew what he was doing, and in the preseason, Greg Johns wrote about "A Seahawks sleeper" named Michael Bennett:
With all the talk about rookie defensive end Nick Reed, another interesting story on the Seattle Seahawks defensive line has gone largely unnoticed. But for those watching closely – and that includes the Seahawks coaching staff – it’s been difficult to ignore the impact of a less-heralded youngster, undrafted free agent defensive tackle Michael Bennett.
"He has flashed for us in practice," defensive line coach Dan Quinn said. "So when he flashes in games, it doesn’t catch me off guard. But people who haven’t seen him might be surprised. My brother called from New Jersey (after the last game) and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, he’s been doing pretty good.’"
"Sometimes in life when you’re going places, some people take a car, some people walk and some take an airplane," Bennett said. "But you eventually get to your destination. And that’s how I feel about this situation for me."
On October 10, Mora put Bennett on the bus and sent him packing in favor of offensive tackle Kyle Williams. (Also: Nick Reed sighting.)
If Bennett thought his road to the NFL was unusual back then, imagine how he would feel if he knew that five years later he'd be signing his biggest NFL contract with the Seattle Seahawks. If we can be thankful to Mora for anything, it's that he motivated Bennett even more to become one of the most disruptive defensive lineman in the league.
On Monday, Bennett signed a four-year, $28.5 million contract with $16 million guaranteed. To put that into perspective, Mario Williams signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills in 2012 that had a $19 million signing bonus, $50 million guaranteed, and up to $100 million over six years. I would definitely say that Williams is better than Bennett... but that much better?
It's an incredibly team-friendly contract for a team and a friend that split up less than five years ago but have found themselves in a beautifully-holy matrimony in 2014. Bennett has pushed himself in ways that we've come to expect Pete Carroll players to push themselves, he's fought through adversity, competition, a cold 2013 free agent market, a one-year deal, a torn rotator cuff, a trip on a stretcher, a trip to Costco, and found himself a Super Bowl champion and multi-millionaire.
Here are five reasons why he earned every penny (and probably a little bit more.)
1. Bennett and Snap
Last season, Bennett had 617 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. Football Outsiders says 643 snaps, with 43 of those coming on special teams. Either way, nobody on Seattle's defensive line played more often that Bennett did last season.
Comparatively speaking, Red Bryant played in 119 fewer snaps on defense (per FO) than Bennett and that's roughly two games worth of snaps. Bryant signed a four-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that could reportedly go as high as $22 million and Bennett signed a four-year deal for $28.5 million.
Besides being a little bit younger, it makes total sense why the team opted to effectively parlay Bryant's cap figure into Bennett's cap figure by releasing Red and re-signing Mike. It certainly makes it seem obvious that they knew what Bennett was going to cost and that all signs were pointing to him returning at least as early as when Bryant ws let go. Because it would have been a lot harder for this team to swallow the loss of two players that account for so much playing time on the defensive line.
It could also be a reason that Chris Clemons has stuck around for this long, as an insurance policy to assure that they don't lose their entire defensive line.
If they had gone full bore and released Clemons and Red while not re-signing Bennett, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald and O'Brien Schofield, they would have lost 72.5% of the snaps of their top eight defensive lineman from last season with only Cliff Avril and Brandon Mebane still around.
Out of all of those defensive lineman on one of the greatest defenses of all time, nobody played more often than Bennett. That says something, but you know what else says something about this defense?
Bennett didn't play that much, relatively.
2. Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
Bennett played in 57.5% of the defensive snaps according to Football Outsiders. I already knew that Bennett played far less than most leading-snaps-on-team defensive lineman, because PFF says that he was 29th in snaps for 4-3 defensive lineman, but I didn't know whether or not many defensive lineman played >80% of their teams snaps.
After all, teams seem to be getting more and more used to the idea that preparing for "the situation" is a better plan than just preparing for "the offense" you are facing. The Seahawks didn't necessarily defeat "the Denver Broncos offense" in the Super Bowl so much as they beat "the Denver Broncos offense" on a play. And then the next play. And then the next play.
"Just win one game" is no different than "Just win one play."
Nobody knows this better than Pete Carroll, it seems.
By having a rotation on the defensive line in which nobody gets more than 60% of the snaps, the Seahawks are essentially running out a basketball team that always has five players on the court (as per the rules) but is able to swap out the best offensive players and defensive players based on possession and situation without having to call timeout or even take a break in the action (as not per the rules.)
When ranking every defensive lineman in the NFL in percentage of defensive snaps played, he's 74th. And yet, he was one of the most valuable defensive lineman in the league last year.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots were first and second in percentage of snaps played (97.9, 95.5, respectively) and in fact New England had four defensive lineman that played a higher percentage of snaps than the Seattle player to lead his unit in snaps. There's certainly nothing wrong with having players that play that much, it's almost always a sign that you have good players and why would you ever take J.J. Watt (94.1%) off of the field? If the Seahawks had Watt, they also wouldn't take him off of the field.
But on the off-chance that you don't have maybe one of the top five defensive lineman of the last 10 years, nobody has found a better solution to that than Carroll.
I mean, it's not like we can just go out and get Robert Quinn. Unless... we already did and he just re-signed???
3. Quinn it to Winn it
Last season, Robert Quinn of the Rams emerged as one of the favorites for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Quinn had 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles, and those kind of stats make you say, "D-d-d-damn!" because they're hot and anything else for defensive lineman is totally not. It was even crazier because Quinn had 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first two seasons combined, but as my BFF Tom Jones once said, "It's not unusual... for players to emerge in year three."
Quinn played 78% of the Rams defensive snaps (teammate Chris Long was barely ahead of him at 78.7%, proving again that most teams have full-time defensive lineman) and overall played in 831 snaps according to FO and 849 snaps according to PFF.
Again, Bennett played in 617 snaps according to PFF; Bennett had 8.5 sacks and on a total count basis, was nowhere near the production of Quinn.
But on a per snap basis?
While Bennett could not compete with Quinn on sacks in any arena, there's another measurement in which Quinn and Bennett basically stand alone in 2013. Bennett had 17 QB hits and 39 QB hurries. He had 36.3 snaps per QB hit, which ranked third in the NFL among 4-3 DL, behind only Cameron Wake and Greg Hardy. Quinn ranked fifth in this category at 40.4 snaps per QB hit.
(Little-known veteran DE William Hayes, a teammate of Quinn and Long, was fourth with 39.3 snaps per QB hit on 354 snaps. I don't think this is an indictment on the category, but more of a sign that Quinn and Long are amazing guys to play with if you're lucky enough to do so. I think they all benefit from each other, just as Bennett, Clemons and Avril benefit from playing together.)
(Avril is eighth in snaps/QBhit at 57.3, which should also give you an idea of how good a number of 36.3 is.)
When sorting for snaps/QBhurry, Bennett ranks fourth with 15.8 snaps per QB hurry while Quinn ranks fifth at 16.64. No two players had a better combination of per snap hits and hurries than Quinn and Bennett last year, and it's a sign that they're both two of the most disruptive players in the league.
It just so happens that Bennett isn't called upon to play as often as Quinn. If it so happens that the reason for that is because Quinn is a better overall player than Bennett, than so be it, but it could just be the systems in which they play. Had Bennett gone to another team, we may have found out, but last year Bennett played a full 985 snaps with Tampa Bay and PFF graded him as the seventh-best player at his position.
His 14 hits a year ago ranked fourth for his position, and his 48 hurries ranked third.
Cam Wake, Greg Hardy, Bennett, Carlos Dunlap, and Derrick Morgan are the five players to rank in the top 10 of PFF grades in each of the last two years for 4-3 defensive ends. Dunlap signed a six-year, $40 million contract last year with a reported $11.7 million guaranteed. Wake signed a four-year, $49 million extension in 2012 with $20 million guaranteed. Hardy was franchise tagged, making him worth at least the average of the five highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL for one year unless they sign him to a long-term deal. Morgan is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Bennett's contract of $28.5 million and $16 million guaranteed is an incredible bargain.
He may have played in about two-thirds of the amount of snaps as most players of his caliber at his position, but not only was he as disruptive as any 4-3 DE in the NFL last year when he was out there, but in 2012 he had already proven he's capable of playing 1000 snaps at a high level.
And of course, he's also proven that you can win a Super Bowl with him.
5. The good 'ship lollipop
Though Clemons was the most notable defensive lineman in the Super Bowl, Bennett wasn't exactly absent. It's just that his presence isn't one you'll find on a typical box score.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett had four QB hurries in the championship game, twice as many as anyone on the Broncos that day. While Clemons had four of his own and Avril had six, I think it's safe to say that the collapse of an offensive line (if that's what you want to call it) doesn't come without having multiple talented players. Do Avril and Clemons combine for 10 QB hurries, four QB hits and a sack without Bennett?
Continuing on that, does Bennett have four QB hurries without Avril and Clemons? It's a wonderful marriage that doesn't have to end, depending on what happens with Clem, but at least will include Ben.
Bennett had three QB hurries and a sack in the NFC Championship, five QB hurries and a sack against the Saints in the divisional round. Overall, his 12 QB hurries was the most of any player in the postseason.
He's disruptive, annoying, and signing Avril and Bennett together last year may have seemed like "more than we can handle" but how can we ever imagine them being apart? They combined for 10 forced fumbles in the reglar season with 16.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries, 27 QB hits, 67 QB hurries, with Clem adding eight hits and 28 more hurries.
We don't know if the Seahawks still would have won the Super Bowl without one of these three players, but we also never have to find out. Thankfully for now, they're all still together.