Michael Bennett was one of the key members of the Seattle defense in 2013. (AP)
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class – instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. So far, we’ve looked at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, Arthur Jones, Brent Grimes and Michael Johnson. Now, it’s Michael Bennett.
Position: Defensive lineman
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on Nov. 13)
Weight: 274 pounds
The skinny: Bennett is essentially hitting free agency at the perfect time — he signed a one-year deal worth $4.8 million last offseason, and then proceeded to go out and play a sizable role in a dominant defense for a team that won the Super Bowl. He finished the 2013 season with 8.5 sacks, and has 17.5 sacks in his last two seasons. A versatile defensive lineman who has played up and down the line, the 6-foot-4, 274-pounder has played at least 13 games a season the last four years, and has a good rep around the league, one that will now only be enhanced by the fact that he has a Super Bowl ring. A former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, he’ll likely follow in the footsteps of his brother Martellus, who signed a one-year contract with the Giants in 2012, had a good season and parlayed that into a long-term deal with the Bears.
By the numbers: Per Pro Football Focus, Bennett led the Seahawks in quarterback hits (17) and quarterback hurries (39) in 2013. (By way of comparison, he would have led the Patriots in quarterback hits — Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had 14 each — and tied for second in quarterback hurries — Ninkovich had 46.)
Why it would work: Bennett has tremendous versatility, having lined up pretty much everywhere on the defensive line over the course of his career. While it took a while for him to find his footing in the pros, he’s had a tremendous amount of success wherever he’s been over the last few seasons.
Why it might not work: Money. Bennett is looking to get paid — in his words — like one of ‘the top guys,’ and unless the Patriots can get creative with some of their cap space, it’ll be a challenge. There’s also the problem of trying to pry Bennett away from a Super Bowl champion — he’s professed his love and admiration for Pete Carroll and his teammates on several occasions, and in addition to the question about getting paid, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d be inclined to bolt from a good situation in Seattle.
Quote: “He had shown versatility that he could play inside and outside, but I didn’t appreciate how constant he is effort-wise. I didn’t have that sense about him watching him on film, but he is a relentless football player. You love guys like that — he’s going to get everything out of every play. He takes some chances. He’s a risk taker in his rushes, in his playmaking, and in the running game. He’ll make some mistakes at times, but he’s also going to make some huge plays. I think it’s the intensity that he brings; we were surprised at that. That shows up, and that’s a great asset.” — Carroll on Bennett
Our take: It’s worth mentioning that Bennett played for Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay before making his way to Seattle (he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seahawks before being swiped by the Bucs … and then returning to Seattle again) and we know Bill Belichick has a soft spot for former Schiano guys. It seems to make a lot of sense of paper — Belichick lies awake at night dreaming about guys with Bennett’s skill set and versatility — but there are a lot of questions about how to execute the move. As previously stated, it would require lots of cap work, as well as what could be the difficult task of luring him away from a defending champion. If New England could somehow make it work financially, it makes a lot of sense.