Michael Bennett is leaving the Seattle Seahawks the way he finished playing for them.
Outspoken. An activist. And both a Pro-Bowl player and polarizing figure at the same time.
“Dear Seattle, #12s, you have meant so much to me and my family! I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Bennett began in a lengthy Instagram post Wednesday, hours after Bennett himself confirmed what the Seahawks would not on a seismic day in Seattle football: The Seahawks traded him and a seventh-round draft choice to the Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Seattle is getting from the Eagles 2016 undrafted wide receiver and special-teams player Marcus Johnson plus a fifth-round pick for the 32-year-old Bennett.
Minutes before news of Bennett’s trade broke, Seahawks teammates began posting on their social-media accounts inferences that three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman had said goodbye to them.
“That text message got my heart hurting … damn 25 was my Dawg #WhatsNext,” Sherman’s fellow Seahawks defensive back Jeremy Lane wrote.
Strong safety Kam Chancellor, the soul of the team whose career is in doubt because of a neck injury, has played with Sherman in Seattle’s secondary since Sherman’s rookie season in 2011 as a fifth-round pick out of Stanford. Chancellor posted on his social-media accounts Wednesday: “Chancellor of Operations. Thanks for the name @RSherman_25.”
The Seahawks had no immediate comment on Bennett’s trade, or on Sherman’s situation.
According to multiple league sources, Sherman did not meet face to face with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider on Wednesday, as one national report said. It appears they have spoken on the phone; Sherman, for years a member of the NFL Players’ Association’s executive council, was due in Las Vegas Wednesday for union meetings.
Sources indicated Sherman does not want to renegotiate down from his $11 million in base pay in 2018, the final year of his four-year, $56-million contract extension he signed with Seattle before the 2014 season. The Seahawks, in need of more salary-cap space to become any kind of player in the free-agent market that opens next week, were weighing whether to waive Sherman injured or continue to try to trade him.
Thing is, Sherman’s trade value has never been lower.
He had season-ending surgery to repair the Achilles tendon he tore in a win at Arizona in November. He recently had a second surgery on the Achilles in his other ankle. That left him in a walking boot for the second time in three months. Seattle is unlikely to get much more than a bag of kicking tees for Sherman right now in a trade. Or at least, far from the second- and third-round picks they lack in April’s draft. Seattle is seeking to recoup those picks they lost in go-for-it trades for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and left tackle Duane Brown while going 9-7 and missing the playoffs last season.
Wednesday’s franchise-changing developments show Schneider was serious when he said Friday at the NFL scouting combine that no Seahawks player was untouchable in trade or even release talks.
Wednesday also seems to increase the possibility Earl Thomas remains a Seahawk cornerstone past this year.
The three-time All-Pro free safety is also entering the last year of his contract. He has loudly spoken of wanting a new deal sooner than later. At his sixth Pro Bowl in January hinted he might hold out into the start of the season in September to try and force a new payday from the Seahawks.
It’s been unlikely the team would choose to extend both Sherman and Thomas at this point in its undeniable transition. The famed “Legion of Boom” members aren’t 25 years old and perennial Super Bowl contenders anymore. They are pushing 30, injured and expensive. They are potential liabilities going forward for a changed and still-changing team that just missed the playoffs for the first time in six years then overhauled its coaching staff.
If Sherman is indeed on his way out, that along with sending away Bennett, Lane ($4.5 million in cap savings if released) and Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril ($7.1 million in savings if he retires, as expected, following neck surgery) would create $24.8 million in cap room. That’s double what the team had entering Wednesday.
That would allow them to extend Thomas and defensive tackle Richardson at team-friendly base salaries the next couple years with up-front guarantees that would please the players. Richardson could become a free agent next week, but the team has been negotiating with him and his agents on a possible extension.
Bennett leaves after being a huge — and hugely visible — key to the best five years in Seahawks history: Four playoff appearances, three consecutive selections to the Pro Bowl, two Super Bowls and the first NFL championship in the franchise’s 42 seasons of existence.
Bennett had 8½ sacks last season while playing through a torn plantar-fascia in his foot and a swollen knee, on top of a grotesquely bent toe that’s bothered him for years.
Only two NFL players have hit opposing quarterbacks more the last five years than Bennett, a quick-twitch defensive end who moved up and down the defensive line to find mismatches past slower blockers. Those are Houston’s All-World J.J. Watt and Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap.
Bennett has gotten to the QB more in that span than Von Miller, Denver’s three-time All-Pro and most valuable player of Super Bowl 50 three seasons ago.
Bennett’s also gotten under people’s skin for sitting during national anthems before games all last season to protest what he says is the mistreatment of minorities in our country. That was among other actions and statements on social issues by Bennett his team has supported but some Seahawks fans have rejected.
The trade saves $2.2 million in space against the 2018 salary cap. It also leaves the Seahawks with only one proven pass-rusher currently ready to play for them in 2018: Frank Clark. And his rookie contract is due to end this year, leaving him possible to leave as a free agent this time next spring.
On his way out of Seattle, Bennett used Instagram to thank Seahawks owner Paul Allen, Carroll, Schneider, team president Pete McLoughlin, team director of equipment Erik Kennedy and vice president of player engagement Mo Kelly “for bringing me to the Seahawks and giving me the opportunity to help bring Seattle their first Championship.
“My teammates. My brothers!” Bennett continued. “More important than any championship or ring are the relationships I have made with the men in that locker room. We experienced marriages, births, deaths, and everything in between, and those are moments I will cherish forever.
“Last but certainly not least, to the City of Seattle, one of the best in the world. You fans are world class. The way you support us players on and off the field, helping to build bridges across our communities and understand what it means to give back and be community-minded. I am forever grateful for allowing me to grow and evolve in this time that I’ve had with you. I expanded my family in this city, I had one of my babies here. This truly was home for us and it’s been such an incredible five years.”
“I want to assure you that the work we have started here with The Bennett Family Foundation will not stop. We are committed to this city, community and the schools we serve. It’s been a blessing to be able to meet so many great people through our work, and share our passion and dedication to better the World, and we look forward to meeting so many more of you. We are just getting started. “We thank you, we love you, God Bless!
“Love, Black Santa”
Bennett told The News Tribune at the end of last season “I probably won’t be back” with Seattle in 2018.
“Just seems like it’s a young man’s game. I can see them going younger, with younger players,” Bennett told the TNT on Dec. 31. “That’s part of the game.”
He was right.
Philadelphia is getting a veteran champion who can still get after the passer.
Seattle is getting a taste of life as a transitioning team, no longer a championship one.
“Bruh.. ,” Seahawks running back Mike Davis posted on his Twitter feed, “what is going on today ??”
Asked on NFL Network Wednesday about Seattle’s big changes to its core on defense, Avril said: “I didn’t think it was going to be this dramatic.”