By Danny O'Neil
Seattle's defense of the Super Bowl it won just last month began with just that: Defense.
Namely, the Seahawks fending off the other suitors for defensive lineman Michael Bennett so effectively that they signed him more than 24 hours before he was able to be inked elsewhere.
Only time will tell whether the four-year contract pays off for Seattle, which makes it impossible to pass judgment on the prudence of this move. On the other hand, it makes it very clear that experience counts for something in the Seahawks' vision of their future. So does effort. And more than anything, Seattle isn't going to be afraid to pony up at the bargaining table when it comes to retaining its most productive parts.
That last fact – Seattle's willingness to cut a check – might turn out to be the most important thing not only in terms of this team's direction but because the deal will offer an eight-digit example to players on Seattle's roster that they don't have to leave to find greener pastures.
A year ago, Bennett was a bargain buy after hitting the free-agent market with one big season under his belt and a bad shoulder. Throw in a salary cap that stayed stagnant and his dive into the open market felt more like one of those polar-bear plunges performed annually by people who have more time on their hands than sense in their heads. Brrr. It was cold out there, and while signing a one-year contract for about $5 million as Bennett did a year ago hardly qualifies as blue-collar work, it was nowhere near the going rate for a defensive lineman who had more than eight sacks for a second consecutive season in 2013.
And if Seattle had bid Bennett farewell instead of outbidding other teams, that would have been perfectly defensible. After all, the Seahawks still have to think about how they're going to pay Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson, so if Seattle had instead looked to find the next short-term fix who would provide a quick return, well, it would have been certainly more affordable.
After all, there are tough decisions that must be made in a salary-capped league like the NFL. The Seahawks showed that a little more than a week ago when they released Red Bryant, who was only a captain on a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league for a second consecutive season.
Like Bryant, Bennett was part of a defensive-line rotation in Seattle. And Bryant was scheduled to count about the same against the salary cap that Bennett will end up averaging.
The fact that Bennett will be on the Seahawks instead of Bryant isn't just a statement on how much the Seahawks value Bennett and his pass-rushing ability, but how much they're willing to pay to retain players they identify as key cogs.
That's important because we're getting to that point in Seattle's life cycle as a contender that players are going to start looking for the pay day. That's not a criticism, but a reality. And if Bennett had been allowed to leave as a free agent the year after leading Seattle in sacks, well, there would have been some who wondered if that was going to be the way to get paid a market-rate contract given the future costs of not only players like Wilson, Sherman and Thomas, but the deal for Percy Harvin that will occupy a healthy chunk of Seattle's salary cap beginning this year.
Instead, Seattle came forth with an offer that kept Bennett from reaching a window in which he could sign elsewhere. There's going to be a fair amount of time spent this week wondering if Bennett could have gotten more elsewhere and the financial specifics, but for now, it's enough to know that Seattle came out firing in defense of that Super Bowl it one, the contract offer of sufficient caliber to keep one of the key contributors on that defense that was the bedrock for that title run.