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.
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!
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.
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