By Brady Henderson
RENTON – For Michael Bennett, the grass was still greener in Seattle.
He had other offers – including two that were reportedly worth more money and one that would have reunited him with his brother – but none of them were enough to lure the defensive lineman away from the place he says he wanted to be all along.
And after signing a four-year deal that answered one of the biggest questions of the Seahawks’ offseason, Bennett rhetorically asked one of his own.
“You think about you could do this, do that,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Bob and Groz” on Monday, “but at the end of the day I’m in a good situation, so why would I change it?”
The deal not only gives Bennett his long-awaited pay day while keeping a significant piece of Seattle’s championship puzzle in place, it also serves as another reminder of how high the Seahawks sit atop the NFL’s pecking order.
Bennett’s bet pays off
Sacks equal dollars in the NFL, which is why Bennett thought he’d strike a lucrative multi-year deal in free agency last offseason after posting nine of them with Tampa Bay in 2012.
But when the market didn’t materialize as Bennett anticipated, he chose to sign a sign a so-called “prove-it” deal with Seattle that paid him $4.8 million and gave him a chance to raise his value before hitting the market again the following offseason. It amounted to a one-year bet on himself, and after helping the Seahawks win the Super Bowl while leading the team with 8.5 sacks in the regular season and 1.5 more in the playoffs, Bennett is cashing in.
His new contract is reportedly worth $28.5 million with $16 million guaranteed, which is by no means exorbitant but nonetheless a significant upgrade for a player who reportedly received a $3,000 signing bonus from Seattle after he was undrafted in 2009, made the league minimum over his first three seasons and then played the last two on one-year deals.
“It feels good, man, to start the way I started, being undrafted coming into the Seahawks and making the team, then going away and coming back and winning a Super Bowl, then getting a chance to get another deal here,” he said. “I love the fans here and that’s one of the main reasons why I came back, and just to get this deal here, it just means a lot to me.”
Bennett led Seattle in sacks with 8.5 while playing both inside and outside. (AP)
A rare player
Bennett was a so-called “tweener” coming out of Texas A&M in 2009, a 274-pound defensive lineman who some felt wasn’t big enough to play tackle in the NFL and not fast enough to rush off the edge.
As it turns out, he’s pretty good at both.
So while Bennett was Seattle’s leading pass rusher last season, he carried extra value to the Seahawks because of the uncommon versatility he provided while playing inside and outside.
“It is a rare guy to find in the league that is able to be effective at both positions,” Seahawks defensive-line coach Travis Jones said in December.
Bennett is one of them, which is a reason why he was considered one of the league’s top free agents and called by Seahawks general manager John Schneider the team’s top priority.
“We had hopes that he would be a real contributor and he exceeded our expectations and we’re excited to keep him,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “He’s got great energy, he’s got a terrific motor and he’s a very versatile football player.”
The place to be
Bennett’s decision to sign with the Seahawks last offseason was an indication of how attractive an NFL destination Seattle has become. His decision to stay there is an even greater one.
Bennett said that while he got from Seattle as much in guaranteed money as he was being offered elsewhere, he turned down deals that carried a greater maximum value. He also passed up on a chance to play in Chicago with his younger brother, Martellus, the Bears’ starting tight end.
“You could never understand what I had to go through this weekend, man, just having to make a decision and almost feeling like you’re choosing something over your family,” Bennett said. “But at the end of the day it’s not about that. It’s definitely about the situation we’ve got now and I felt good about coming back.”
And the fact that he took less money to do so is even more proof of the Seahawks’ considerable pull. Players want to come to Seattle and stay there, which is understandable considering everything this organization boasts.
There’s an owner in Paul Allen who spares no expense; a head coach in Pete Carroll who fosters an uncommonly fun and loose environment; a palatial lakefront training facility; and a special bond with the team’s fan base, which Bennett repeatedly cited as being a factor in his decision. And for players like him, there’s also the appeal of playing inside the NFL’s loudest stadium and in front of the league’s best secondary, two factors that make life easier on pass rushers.
“Why would I ever want to leave a defense like this where everybody is great players and we all make plays and depend on each other? It’s a great defense,” Bennett said. “I don’t think there’s any better situation no matter how much money is involved. Nothing can beat winning and being on a championship organization.”
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.