I love what Michael Bennett brought to the Eagles last year. Incredible energy, a healthy dose of swagger and big-time pass rush over the second half of the season.
That said, this was a no-brainer (see reported trade).
Once he said these words on NFL Network Friday morning, he was done here:
I’m not willing to take a pay cut. I actually want a pay raise at this point.
He can still play. He had 10 sacks last year, including one in the playoffs.
But the last thing the Eagles need is a disgruntled Michael Bennett. And the last thing they could afford to do was give a raise to a 33-year-old part-time player who’s already on the books for a $7.2 million cap hit this year and $8 million next year.
Any time any player starts making demands, it’s the beginning of the end. Because no competent GM is going to let a player threaten his way to a new contract. Give in, and 52 other players are going to be at the GM’s door the next morning making similar threats.
Howie Roseman is navigating the Eagles out of salary cap hell, not back into it.
And if shedding Bennett leaves them with a huge cap savings, not a penny of dead money and a draft pick or picks, that is one heck of a move.
Bennett turns 34 halfway through the 2019 season, and as productive as he was last year, he’s at an age in which the end is likely near.
He projects right now as one of the 30 highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL for 2019, and only 11 defensive ends in NFL history have ever hit double figures in sacks in a season in which they’ve been 34.
Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Chris Doleman and Too Tall Jones are in that group.
So the analytics tell you to move on and common sense tells you to move on and the salary cap tells you to move on.
But moving on from Bennett does leave the Eagles with a hole on the D-line.
And the key to all of this is Derek Barnett.
He has to become what Michael Bennett was.
Really, all we know about the defensive end position is that Brandon Graham will be back doing his thing, and Barnett will be here for his third season after a promising rookie year and an injury-shortened second year.
As for Chris Long, if he’s back, it’s a bonus. And maybe Bennett leaving makes Long's return more likely, since there will be more reps to go around. Fourth-round pick Josh Sweat comes back, but he’s an unknown quantity.
The whole key to sustaining success in the NFL is constantly getting younger and cheaper without losing production. Every time you lose a veteran because of financial considerations, you have to be able to replace him with a cheaper version who is just as good.
This is why the draft is the lifeblood of every elite NFL team and why Joe Douglas is such a crucial part of the Eagles’ front office.
Barnett, the 14th pick in the 2017 draft, has to be a stud.
Has to be.
Barnett is on the books for 2019 and 2020 with cap numbers of $3,504,815 and $4,088,882, which is a good dose of cap money, but he’s a first-round pick and now he has to play like one.
There’ve been some good signs so far with Barnett. He had five sacks as a rookie, and his 7½ sacks are fourth-most ever by an Eagle in his first 21 games, behind only Mike Mamula (11½), Corey Simon (11½) and Trent Cole (11).
Other than Marcus Smith in 2014, the Eagles have done pretty well lately in the first round — Fletcher Cox in 2012, Lane Johnson in 2013, Nelson Agholor in 2015 and Carson Wentz in 2016.
All key guys on a Super Bowl championship team.
Now it’s Barnett's turn to take the next step.
He needs to become that 10-to-12 sack guy playing alongside B.G. If he can do that, nobody will remember Michael Bennett and his contract demands.
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