SEATTLE — The Seahawks’ long-rumored offseason of change began in earnest Wednesday when they traded defensive end Michael Bennett and a seventh-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fifth-round pick and receiver Marcus Johnson, according to reports from ESPN and the NFL Network.
The Seahawks had no immediate confirmation of the trade as the move cannot become official until March 14, when the new league year begins. But a league source confirmed the news of the trade to the Seattle Times.
The Seahawks have been rumored to be shopping Bennett for a week or so as they look to make over their team following a 9-7 season in 2017 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
General manager John Schneider confirmed that the team could be in for a heavy facelift when he said last week at the NFL combine that the team had no untouchables, and the first domino to fall in what could be some significant change is Bennett, whose arrival in 2013 as a free agent helped set the stage for the team’s only Super Bowl title a few years later.
Bennett immediately became the heart and soul of the team’s defensive line, making the Pro Bowl each of the last three years, and earning two significant contracts with the team.
But Bennett, who will turn 33 next November, has also battled a succession of injuries the past few seasons, playing through plantar fascia and knee injuries in 2017 and missing five games due to arthroscopic knee surgery, and it’s thought the team was worried his play had begun to decline. Bennett has also long been one of the most influential voices in the team’s locker room, and the Seahawks are also thought to prefer to shift the defensive leadership to other players, such as middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Bennett has three years remaining on his contract, and the Seahawks will save $2.2 million against the salary cap in 2018 with his departure.
Johnson, in his second year out of Texas, caught five passes last season for the Eagles. He did not play in the playoffs as the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. He ran a reported 4.42 coming out of college and the Seahawks were undoubtedly looking to add a speedy receiver with the possibility that Paul Richardson — who will be a free agent beginning March 14 — may not return.
Bennett was due a reported $3 million roster bonus on March 18 so it was clear something would have to happen soon.
Bennett himself started the rumors that the 2017 season might be his last in Seattle when he speculated several times of having an uncertain future.
“I’ll be fine,” Bennett said then. “Whatever happens, I’ve loved being a Seahawk. I’ve had a great career with the Seahawks. You just keep growing and keep playing the best you can. You love the organization and you love the players that you played with. I’ve won a lot of games. So if I’m not here, I would never have any hard feelings toward the organization. I love Pete Carroll and John Schneider and you just move forward. This is a part of football. This is a part of the sport. You move forward and play for another organization if you get the opportunity.”
There are also some valid financial reasons for unloading Bennett, even if the contract he signed late in 2016 means that if the Seahawks deal him now they will have essentially paid him an extra $8.5 million they didn’t have to if they had just let his old contract lapse.
Seattle can clear out roughly $14 million against the salary cap for the 2019-2020 seasons, money it could use to extend Earl Thomas and others, and will also save about $21 million in cash payouts to Bennett for the final three years of his career.
The trade of Bennett will end one of the most interesting careers in team history.
Actually, Bennett had two Seahawks careers, having been initially signed by the team in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M before being released.
He then went to Tampa Bay and played four seasons there before returning in 2013 on a one-year contract. After helping lead Seattle to the Super Bowl title in 2013 when he played the most snaps of the defensive linemen, he signed a four-year deal to stay with the Seahawks through 2017.
He then signed an extension in Dec., 2016 due to keep him with the team through 2020, saying at the time he hoped to retire in Seattle.
Along the way he not only earned a reputation as one of the team’s best players — his 39 sacks are fifth in team history — but also one of its most interesting, unafraid to do or say anything.
An indelible image of Seattle’s 2015 NFC Championship Game win over Green Bay came when Bennett grabbed a bicycle belonging to a Seattle police man and rode it around CenturyLink Field in celebration (the bike was later auctioned off for charity).
He seemed to have a quote for every occasion (more than a few NSFW), such as when he once said that Russell Wilson was so popular in Seattle that when he was pulled over, the cop got a ticket instead.
Bennett also became increasingly involved in social issues the last few years, and began sitting for the anthem in 2017 with many defensive linemen joining him in solidarity. He also alleged that Las Vegas police were guilty of racial profiling and excessive force when he was questioned in August when police searched a casino for an active shooter the night of the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight.
Carroll said after the season he had no question that what Bennett went through in 2017 off the field likely impacted his play on the field.
“Would it have affected yours?,” Carroll said. “Think about what he went through; and it wasn’t just on a small scale personal deal, it went nation-wide and all of that. He did his best to handle it and that’s all he could do. Whether it had an impact or not, I don’t know. Talk to Mike.”