Patriots

The Patriots have three options with Michael Bennett

The Patriots have three options with Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett says he got into it with defensive line coach Bret Bielema last Friday.

That would be the day after the Patriots improved to 6-0 with another vivisection of an opposing offense (the New York Giants).

Despite the team’s unprecedented defensive success, Bennett was — according to his version — irked enough to get into it with Bielema. We can presume — again, based on Bennett’s explanation — the conversation over what Bennett described as “philosophical differences” was pretty contentious.

Being suspended and docked a game check is a lot more serious than being sent to timeout and getting benched, which is what happened with former Patriots like Alan Branch (and probably others) in years past.

I’m not inclined to take Bennett’s characterization of the dustup at face value. Or even believe that it was just the position coach or was merely over philosophy (although a Hobbes vs. Locke discussion over the state of nature can escalate).

Just because he’s first out of the gate with a “statement” of what he says happened, that doesn’t mean we all just shrug and think that’s precisely what went down. Was it just Bennett and Bielema? Was it physical and philosophical? How many teammates did it take place in front of? You’ll notice Bennett’s apology didn’t extend to the coaches, just the teammates if he caused a distraction.

Bennett’ has played with four teams in his career.

He led the charge to get head coach Greg Schiano fired in Tampa. While in Seattle, he described Pete Carroll as Willy Wonka and reportedly was so disengaged from doing what the rest of the defensive linemen were doing that he would read during team meetings. In his single season with the Eagles in 2018, he went out of his way to talk about how head coach Doug Pederson “respects you like a man” and that — because of that — players needed to win to keep Pederson around. I mean, what’s the alternative? Lose on purpose so he gets fired?

You can’t fault the Patriots for acquiring him in early March. They’d just lost Trey Flowers. They couldn’t know that they’d get back a skinnier and much improved Danny Shelton, see the second-year jump they got from Adam Butler, add Jamie Collins, unearth a very good third-down pass-rusher in Chase Winovich and — in short — morph into a defense where Bennett’s playing style and body type are a poor match.

Bennett hasn’t been playing much. When he has played, he’s given effort but not been outstanding (as this very detailed breakdown by Phil Perry shows).

And while you absolutely can fault Bennett for being a dink last Friday (again, if that’s what truly happened), one can appreciate his frustration. The Patriots knew how he played. They traded for him. They gave him a two-year deal and a raise. If one takes pride in his craft, one wants to ply his craft. And Bennett is not being allowed to, regardless of the reason.

So what now? The options aren’t clear.

Ride It Out

There are 10 games left to play and there’s a damn good chance that number could be 13 (actually, nine and 12 for Bennett). I find it hard to believe that Bennett’s particular set of skills won’t be valuable at some point over the next four months. Against Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes or Dak Prescott — all quarterbacks more mobile than the majority of QBs the team has seen so far — Bennett may have more to offer than Deatrich Wise or Lawrence Guy in certain situations.

The Patriots can’t be loving the fact they’re paying Bennett to watch 45 plays a week. For two decades, they’ve shown an aptitude for finding roles for players. I have no doubt they’ve been trying to do that with Bennett and haven’t found the right formula yet. If Bennett’s tirade wasn’t a scorched-earth takedown of Bielema and one the two men can work past, this would probably be the preferred option.

It’s beneficial for teams to have good players. Bennett is a good player. How much do they have to suck it up to make him happy? Will he ever be happy unless everything’s going his way and he’s getting treated as he sees fit? The Patriots will have to answer that question first.

Trade Him

For years, Bennett has derided coaches for being mean like Bill Belichick. The Patriots took a chance, addressed a need, paid some money and it didn’t work out. It’s easy to read the direction things are going and where they’ve been: Bennett doesn’t like his role, doesn’t like the atmosphere and doesn’t like Bielema. So the Patriots should get while the getting’s semi-good, even though it’s another few million of Bob Kraft’s money that Belichick is taking a flamethrower to.

The hard part about trading a nearly 34-year-old player who needs to be featured in a specific style of defense is finding a partner willing. Then convincing said partner that Bennett won’t be detrimental to their team and that the $94K per game he’ll be paid is worth it. That team has to still be playing for something to take on Bennett, which will eliminate a good chunk of potential suitors.

The upside for the Patriots is in money saved against the cap — between $2.8M and $2.3M depending on when he’s dealt according to Patriots cap oracle Miguel Benzan and the chance to bring someone in at a position of need. On paper, sending Bennett to the Lions in exchange for Danny Amendola makes sense. And the money shouldn’t be a barrier relative to the cap. But will Bennett be any happier working for Matt Patricia in a Patriots-style system?

Also worth weighing, is whether or not Bennett agrees to report wherever he’s dealt. At this stage of his career, a wildcat strike in order to show his autonomy isn’t beyond imagining. Hell, his brother Martellus shot his way out of Green Bay to get to the Patriots last year!

Release Him

The upside is you’ve washed that man right out of your hair. The downside? You get nothing for the asset except sunk costs and dead money against the cap. Plus, some team the Patriots are directly competing with adds a piece at minimal cost and — potentially — gets better.

The Patriots have until October 29 to deal Bennett. Between now and then they have to decide whether, to borrow a phrase from LBJ, they want Bennett inside their tent pissing out or outside their tent pissing in.

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE TO TOM E. CURRAN'S PATRIOTS TALK PODCAST:

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Tom Brady laughs off Patriots injury report designation: 'I'm feeling really good'

Tom Brady laughs off Patriots injury report designation: 'I'm feeling really good'

The New England Patriots' Thursday injury report raised some eyebrows as Tom Brady was downgraded to limited in practice. But per usual, the injury designation doesn't seem to be a cause for concern.

In fact, Brady couldn't help but laugh when asked about being listed with elbow and toe ailments. During his Thursday night appearance on Westwood One with Jim Gray, Brady assured Patriots fans he'll be good to go vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

“That might be the first time my toe’s been on the injury report,” Brady said. “So, you know us Patriots. We’re pretty diligent about listing everything. So, I guess you have to make mention of my toe now, as well.”

As for the elbow issue, Brady dealt with it during last week's game in Houston and is ready to do the same at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

“Isn’t there some HIPAA violation or something like that when I start talking about all of my injuries?” Brady joked. “I’m doing pretty good. I’m doing pretty good. At this time of the year, I’ll take it. I’ll take anything if I’m still able to go out there and feel like I can play my best. I’m feeling really good, really positive about this weekend.”

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Patriots Talk Podcast: A detailed look at why Tom Brady's time in NE is winding down

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Patriots Talk Podcast: A detailed look at why Tom Brady's time in NE is winding down

For 19 seasons, Tom Brady has been the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the New England Patriots. And for 19 years, he has started every game that he has been healthy for.

But ahead of the 2020 offseason, Brady's status with the organization remains as questionable as ever.

For the first time in his career, the 42-year-old Brady will be set to hit unrestricted free agency. He agreed to a restructured contract with the team this offseason, but it only gave him a pay raise this season and guaranteed that the team couldn't slap him with the franchise tag.

While Brady could return to the Patriots, it's possible that he could choose to go elsewhere if the team doesn't commit to him financially or surround him with better weaponry.

On the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discussed the possibility of Brady leaving. And as Curran pointed out, that topic hasn't been broached with much seriousness despite the fact that free agency is closer than some may realize.

We're talking about a seismic occurrence in the arc of the dynasty that is basically 90 days away. They could come to some kind of conclusion and rectify it and he might finish his career here, but it doesn't smell that way.

It's important to note that nothing is set in stone, and the Brady-Patriots relationship has endured for two decades for a reason. Despite some strain in the relationship at times, things have always been smoothed over. 

That said, there are some quarterback-needy teams that could attempt to lure Brady away from New England in an attempt to put their team over the top. Curran and Perry identified a few different options on the podcast, one of which was the Los Angeles Chargers.

Hear more from Curran and Perry on the latest episode of "The Patriots Talk Podcast," which drops every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.