Patriots

Michael Bennett finds better fit in Cowboys, Patriots find cap relief with trade

Patriots

FOXBORO -- The Patriots went out of their way to trade for Michael Bennett this offseason. They didn't have to give him the raise he wanted, but they did. They wanted things to work out in New England for their new pass rusher, but it was pretty clear from Week 1 that the fit wasn't perfect.

On Thursday, we found out the Patriots got to the point that they were ready to cut bait with Bennett before the halfway point of the regular season. They traded him to the Cowboys, according to a league source, for a Day 3 draft pick.

Bennett played 130 snaps for the Patriots through six games, his snap percentage dropping each week. In New England's two-gapping style of defense, Bennett had a hard time establishing himself. On the first play of the season, he fired up the field and past running back James Conner, who scooted around Bennett for a four-yard gain. 

At previous stops in Seattle and Philadelphia, Bennett was allowed to be a one-gapping penetrator who brought heat on opposing quarterbacks thanks to his quickness and savvy at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots ask their defensive linemen to be brutes -- especially on the interior -- which didn't mesh with what Bennett was comfortable with. He played on the inside in Bill Belichick's 3-4 style scheme more than 70 percent of the time this season. Meanwhile, last season in Philadelphia, Bennett played more than 70 percent of his snaps on the edge.

 

When asked on Wednesday if he was asked to change his style for the Patriots, Bennett asked what the reporter thought. When CLNS Media's Evan Lazar said yes, Bennett replied, "You answered your own question."

Belichick indicated earlier in the day on Wednesday that he'd moved on from the one-week suspension that kept Bennett out of Monday night's game with the Jets and cost him a paycheck. But in speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Bennett was clearly still bothered to be in the situation he was in with the Patriots.

"I didn't take away nothing," Bennett said when asked if he'd taken anything away from the incident that got him a week of unpaid leave. "I got suspended. Lost money. What am I supposed to take away from that? I mean it's no love lost. It's just how it is."

In Dallas, Bennett should be happier. The path to playing time is clear. He should factor into their sub-packages as an interior rusher -- which made him a one-man wrecking crew in Super Bowl XLIX -- and he'll rotate in on the outside on earlier downs with fellow defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn. Bennett should help make up for the Cowboys losing defensive end Tyrone Crawford to injured reserve earlier this month.

In Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme, a penetrating scheme that allows its defensive linemen to shoot up the field after quarterbacks, Bennett's skill set should shine. As we pointed out in this piece on Bennett's waning snap counts in New England, he still clearly has good burst off the line of scrimmage and can get into opposing backfields quickly.

Bennett will also get a chance to reunite with former Seahawks assistant Kris Richard in Dallas. Richard is now the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator for the Cowboys. The Cowboys also have some familiarity with Bennett after coaching him in the Pro Bowl following the 2016 season.

Meanwhile, from a Patriots perspective, trading Bennett signals a failed trade back in March. Bennett was expected to help the team make up for the loss of Trey Flowers. Even with Bennett not producing, the Patriots have had a historically efficient defense through seven games, leading the league in multiple major categories. 

In acquiring Bennett before the season, the Patriots sent Philadelphia a 2020 fifth-round pick and picked up a 2020 seventh-round pick. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, sending Bennett to Dallas will land the Patriots a seventh-round pick that could turn into a sixth-rounder in 2021. 

Perhaps significantly in the short-term, though, is the salary-cap space the Patriots will pick up by dealing Bennett. The Patriots have been tight against the cap and restructured Shaq Mason's contract earlier this week in order to give themselves some breathing room. Dealing Bennett at this point in the season should clear a little more than $2 million in cap space. According to cap expert Miguel Benzan of the Boston Sports Journal, the Patriots now have just under $3 million in cap space remaining. 

 

The Patriots could potentially get just under a $1 million in additional cap space freed up should Josh Gordon land on waivers and get claimed. If the Patriots want to sign a free agent -- or pull off another trade before the Tuesday deadline -- then having that space could be key. There are, of course, other ways to add cap space. Extending Devin McCourty, for instance, would help in that regard, but it's my understanding the team hasn't yet approached the veteran safety about an extension. 

The Patriots will have an opportunity to see Michael Bennett again soon. One month from the day he was traded, Nov. 24, the Cowboys will visit Gillette Stadium for a Week 12 matchup at 4:25 p.m.

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