Last week, the biggest Seahawks storylines involved Kam Chancellor and the offensive line.
Based on comments from general manager John Schneider at the NFL owners’ meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., Chancellor sounds like he’s doing much better than he was last year when he held out at the start of the season.
I’m making a leap here, probably a huge one because you have to read between the lines, but tweets from Chancellor also intimate that the Seahawks’ strong safety will fully participate in training camp this year.
The status of the offensive line is more uncertain. The Seahawks are seemingly OK with the thought of Garry Gilliam, a converted tight end who became a right tackle last year, battling with Bradley Sowell, who wasn’t good enough to be a starter with Arizona the last two years, to become Russell Okung’s replacement at left tackle. The new right tackle will be J’Marcus Webb, who got mixed reviews in his three starts at that position last year in Oakland.
The draft should add depth to the O-line and perhaps diminish lingering questions about the caliber of that position group.
Among the other topics to cover in the coming months before training camp stars in late July: contract extensions for Schneider and Pete Carroll – ESPN’s John Clayton estimates the Seahawks’ coach will earn $10.5 million to $11 million a year in his new deal – and an extension for leading receiver Doug Baldwin.
But I’m most interested in Michael Bennett’s contract situation. The Seahawks’ defensive end thought about joining Chancellor in a holdout but showed up and had a terrific season. He has become one of the best defensive ends in the league. His versatile skills of rushing the quarterback from inside and out make him a highly valued commodity.
Problem is, Bennett has two years remaining on a contract that he signed in March of 2014, a four-year deal worth $28.5 million with $16 million guaranteed.
The Seahawks don’t like to renegotiate with players who have more than a year remaining on their contracts. Marshawn Lynch was the one exception. The Seahawks tweaked his deal two offseasons ago, moving some money from future years into the 2014 season.
Unlike Chancellor, who was already one of the top three highest-paid strong safeties in the league, Bennett has the leverage that Lynch had. It’s not the threat of retirement; it’s the case for higher pay based on his level of play.
Crazily, Bennett will make only $5 million in 2016, a $4 million base salary with a $1 million roster bonus. He technically shows up as $7 million against the salary cap this year, but he already earned $2 million of that money in a signing bonus in 2014.
Back then, the Seahawks tweeted out a photo of Bennett signing his deal at team headquarters, and he followed it up with a tweet of his own, explaining that the biggest reason he was staying was because of the 12th Man, the greatest fans in the league.
If Bennett was unhappy with his contract last year, imagine how he feels now. Malik Jackson signed a free-agent deal with Jacksonville that averages $17.1 million and will pay him $18 million in 2016. Olivier Vernon signed a free-agent deal with the New York Giants that averages $17 million a season and will pay him $29 million this year.
Bennett is 19th on the defensive-end salary list but surely top-five in performance.
I don’t have any sources telling me anything, but my guess is we’re headed toward a Bennett holdout, and we know what a distraction that was with Chancellor last year. You can argue that it was one of the biggest reasons the Seahawks got off to a slow start and caused them to take the much harder route of playing road games in the playoffs.
If the Seahawks are to return to the Super Bowl, they need to avoid another holdout. Bennett, as you’ve probably heard, fired his agent and hired Lynch’s, no doubt hoping that Doug Hendrickson can sweeten his deal, too.
I get tired of hearing the Seahawks’ side, though I understand that salary-cap ramifications always need to be considered. If you give in to a player’s demands when he has two years left on his contract, you’ll get countless others who will also want their deals restructured. It’s a bad precedent. I’ve heard that over and over again.
Go ahead and call it a precedent, but with Bennett, call it a good, new precedent. Hey, fellow Seahawks, even if you sign a team-friendly deal, should you vastly outperform that contract in the years ahead, we will reward you, too.
Call it the Michael Bennett Precedent. There are exceptional parameters that must be met before you knock on Schneider’s door. You could even look at it as further incentive for players to excel.
Maybe I’m missing something, but in this instance, if you’re trying to get back to the Super Bowl and avoid a distracting holdout, Bennett should be rewarded with a better deal.