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March 5, 2014 at 4:49 PM

ESPN with good preview of free agency and interesting assessment of Michael Bennett

In advance of the free agent signing period due to start early next week, ESPN.com today published this story examining the landscape, and concluding that most teams may be content to largely sit on their wallets and that many players may find their offers a lot less exciting than they imagined.

It’s a good reminder that free agency often turns out to be more sizzle than substance.

Included is this assessment of the potential worth of Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett:

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett seems ticketed for a significant payday after an 8.5-sack season with the Seahawks. But it’s worth wondering how high teams will bid after they sat on their wallets last year — when he was a year younger (he’s 28 now) and coming off a season with more sacks and starts than he had in 2013. After a nine-sack season in 2012, he signed the Seahawks’ one-year offer for $5 million and will take another run at free agency this spring.

What I find most interesting there is the conclusion that his 2012 season might have been better than it was in 2013 based solely on his starts and sacks.

It’s the kind of conclusion a player, such as Bennett, might read and find disturbing, knowing that the main reason for both numbers is that he — and the rest of the Seattle defensive line — accepted roles this season that they knew would result in fewer stats but that they also knew would be better for the greater whole.

Seattle had what was essentially a seven-man rotation up front for the four starting DL roles.

Bennett’s role was largely to play in passing downs, which is why he was officially listed as the backup to Red Bryant at defensive end and officially started just three regular season games — including at Atlanta when Bryant was injured and played 44 of a possible 58 snaps in a rout of the Falcons, the game his agents would likely point to as proof of what Bennett could have done this year if required to play more.

Bennett undoubtedly could have been the starter — and, in fact, he led the Seattle defensive linemen in snaps played this season at 57.5 percent. But it worked best for Seattle to have Bryant at the five-technique DE spot as an early-down run defender, and then bring in Bennett as part of the nickel package (Bennett obviously did more than that, but that was his primary role).

As noted, no DL played more than Bennett’s 57.5 percent of snaps, with Bryant playing  the least at 46 percent. Spreading the snaps kept everyone fresh and relatively healthy in a season when from the start the coaching staff tried to manage personnel anticipating a run to the Super Bowl, while also giving the Seahawks uncommon versatility to mix-and-match personnel.

But playing fewer snaps also means fewer opportunities to get sacks, and none of Seattle’s DLs put up big numbers this year, one reason why none made it to the Pro Bowl despite the fact the Seahawks had what was unquestionably the best defense in the NFL.

Y0u heard the DLs make mention of all of this from time to time. But as Cliff Avril said, winning cures everything, and the players accepted it for the chance to be part of history.

What they also hoped, though, is that those who really matter also were paying attention and understood why the stats might not accurately reflect each player’s real contribution.

My stance remains that I won’t be surprised if Bennett never really gets to free agency, and the Seahawks lock him up first. But should he get out on the open market, no doubt players will  be watching to see if he gets monetarily penalized for the way the team used its line last season.

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