These “profiles” have so far been reserved for potential free agents whom the Falcons may target when the legal tampering period begins on March 12, but this is a unique circumstance.
Michael Bennett, the pro bowl defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, is on the trading block, and according to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, the Atlanta Falcons have checked in. We may see Atlanta make its biggest offseason trade acquisition since trading a second-round pick for Tony Gonzalez in 2009.
Bennett has been selected to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl each of the past three years and has proven to be an impact player for Seattle ever since he signed with them as a free agent in 2013.
Let’s take a look at if the Falcons should make a move to bring in the loquacious Bennett, and just how much they should give up in a potential trade.
The case for acquiring Michael Bennett
Bennett would provide an instant impact on the defensive line for the Falcons. He’s an incredibly capable pass rusher who overwhelms offensive lineman with his strength, aggressiveness and long arms.
Bennett is incredibly proficient in getting into the opposing backfield, plain and simple. He’s registered at least 8.5 sacks in four of the last six seasons, including an even 8.5 last season, and has recorded at least 14 tackles for loss in each of the past four seasons consecutively. Despite playing in just 11 games in 2016, his 16 tackles for loss that season was only one shy of that year’s NFL high of 17. The 70 total pressures Bennett registered last season ranked seventh among all 4-3 DEs in the league (PFF).
The former Texas A&M man is also versatile enough to play either defensive end or defensive tackle. He would most likely be asked to play both positions in Atlanta, contributing to the defensive line rotation Dan Quinn likes to run.
There would be no issue in scheme fit with Bennett, as he would be coming from Seattle, who runs an identical defense scheme to Atlanta’s. Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn was his defensive coordinator in Seattle for two seasons in 2013-14.
Bennett has a potential “out” in his contract after this season. If Atlanta trades for him and the marriage doesn’t work out, then they could part ways either before June 1 of next year and accrue $3,475,000 in dead cap for just 2019, or after June 1 and accrue $1,737,500 in dead cap in 2019 and 2020 (Spotrac). GM Thomas Dimitroff would also have the opportunity to convert some or all of Bennett’s $5 million roster bonus (according to Spotrac) into a signing bonus, which could decrease his $6,650,000 cap hit this offseason (the total cap hit is $8,387,500, but Seattle owes him $1,737,500 via his signing bonus).
The case against acquiring Michael Bennett
Before I get into the actual argument against acquiring Bennett, I’d just like to address the concerns many fans have had in regards to Bennett being a “cancer” and someone who would destroy the locker room. There has been no concrete evidence beyond wild speculation which suggests that any of this is true. Bennett has garnered a reputation for being a dirty player on the field (there is evidence of this), but there has never been any report of this extending to the locker room.
The main locker room concern with Bennett would be his relationship with Atlanta Falcons’ offensive lineman Jake Matthews after the two developed a bit of a history in a very volatile clash between the Falcons and Seahawks in 2016. In my humble opinion, however, they can get over it and set whatever “beef” they may or may not have aside for the good of the team and the good of the brotherhood.
A unique negative in bringing in Bennett, that isn’t apparent with the tradition free agent, is that Atlanta will have to compensate another team (Seattle) for his services. The Seahawks will most likely look for draft capital in a potential trade, and Atlanta is a team which is already down a 5th round pick due to the Ty Sambrailo trade they made before this past season.
The primary concern with Bennett is his age: he’ll be 33 before the end of the regular season and isn’t far away from losing a step. This trade wouldn’t be without risk for the Falcons. They’ll have to give away a potential contributor via the draft for a defensive lineman on the downside of his career (even if it’s a day three selection, remember that Atlanta has already drafted the likes of Grady Jarrett and De’Vondre Campbell in the late rounds of the past few drafts).
Even if Dimitroff reworks the cap hit on Bennett’s contract for 2018 like I mentioned above, the contract would be an issue when looking at the bigger picture. Bennett will count for a cap hit of $7,000,000 ($8,737,500 total minus $1,737,500 owed to him by Seattle via signing bonus) in 2019 and $8,500,000 ($10,237,500 total minus $1,737,500 owed to him by Seattle via signing bonus) in 2020 (Spotrac), right when the Falcons will need to hand out extensions to their star defensive players. Of course, that potential “out” is worked into his contract, but if the Falcons use it, they will have essentially given up a draft pick for a one-year rental of Bennett’s services.
Verdict: make a move for Michael Bennett, but for nothing more than a fourth-round draft pick
Robert Quinn just got traded from the Rams to the Dolphins for a fourth-round draft pick. Quinn, another fearsome pass rusher, is much younger than Bennett but he also carries a higher cap hit this season ($11,444,412). This trade has pretty much set the market for what the Seahawks can expect to get for Bennett.
Atlanta should give up, at most, a fourth-rounder this year. If the Seahawks are unwavering in demanding more compensation then Dimitroff should walk away from the negotiation, if they settle for less than a fourth, then that’s even better.
I’ve said it time and time again in this portion of these profile pieces: the Falcons must capitalize on their window of contention, which is open right now. Losing another draft pick is going to suck, but there’s nobody you can get on day three of the draft who will help your team win now more than Michael Bennett will.
With this move, Atlanta will solidify its defensive line and will be able to efficiently rush four (a critical Dan Quinn philosophy) on every passing down next season. This is the type of trade which could propel the Falcons’ defensive into the top tier category this upcoming year.