He talked the talk about fitting into a defensive line rotation, but when he introduced himself to reporters Monday at the NovaCare Complex, Michael Bennett didn’t really act like a guy who was easing toward a part-time role.
After riffing about how he didn’t think there was a tight end in the league who could block him, Bennett, 32, name-checked the starting quarterbacks in his new division, the NFC East.
“I know Eli Manning’s probably watching this and thinking, like, ‘Yes, [Bennett is] coming.’ I know Dak [Prescott] is watching this like, ‘Yeah, he’s coming.’ Yeah I am. And Alex Smith, you know he can’t run from me, I told him in the Pro Bowl,” said Bennett, whose Pro Bowl appearance this year was his third in a row. Pro Football Focus credits him with 74 quarterback hits since 2013, which it says is the NFL’s second-best figure.
Bennett played 931 snaps last season for Seattle, 84.79 percent of that defense’s total. The Eagles rotated defensive linemen religiously, with Brandon Graham logging a team-high 663 snaps, 64.37 percent of the total, according to Pro Football Reference.
“I’m comfortable with taking less plays, man, but … I came here to be an all-star, just like I’ve been, to continuously play at a Pro Bowl level, said Bennett, who also acknowledged that “just taking snaps off and being able to have a longer longevity career is something that every player wishes and dreams about,” and that “at the end of the day, it’s not about September, October, and November, it’s about January and February … You got to go out there and play savage every single play, and I think having less snaps can give me a chance to do that.”
The Eagles have subtracted Vinny Curry and Beau Allen from the defensive front, added Bennett and another older vet, 34-year-old Haloti Ngata, to a group that includes Brandon Graham, 2017 first-round rookie Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, and Chris Long. Bennett managed 8.5 sacks last season despite playing with plantar fasciitis, but he was not as unstoppable as he seemed a few years earlier.
“I think we could have one of the greatest defensive lines to ever play the game,” Bennett said. “A great defensive line is about the rotation. It’s kind of like Golden State, you want to have those guys that can come in and shoot and shoot and score every time.”
Bennett can line up at defensive end or defensive tackle and is the biggest piece the Eagles have acquired in their first-ever offseason as defending Super Bowl champions. Like them, he has won a ring, his coming four years back with the Seahawks. And Bennett has been very close to where the Eagles want to be, one play away from a second successive Lombardi Trophy, until New England’s Malcolm Butler snatched it away.
“In the season after you win a Super Bowl, all the pressure’s on you … you go from being an underdog to being the top dog,” Bennett said. “It’s whether you jell after you have success. This organization is primed for that. The first thing I talked to Doug [Pederson} about is that success, and to be able to have that opportunity. This is why I think this is a great situation for me and my family.
“I’ve already had a great career … For me, it’s just about winning, getting another ring. … You want to hold that Lombardi. A lot of people can get Pro Bowls, a lot of people can get a lot of different things in the NFL, when it comes to contracts. But not a lot of people can hold that Lombardi. When you hold it, it’s something that’s very dear. It’s like you’re holding your child, and you’re being able to caress it and hold it and it’s yours, and it’s something that you really value.”
Bennett said that when Howie Roseman called to welcome him to the team after the trade that brought him here, along with a seventh-round draft pick, for wideout Marcus Johnson and a fifth, “the first thing he said was, ‘I want to go back.’
“When you hear somebody say something like that, you feel it. I felt it through the phone, and I felt the vibe,” Bennett said.
Seattle, where Bennett’s play and his community activism helped make him a huge celebrity, has a team that is retooling after missing the playoffs. Richard Sherman is in San Francisco, Jimmy Graham is in Green Bay. Bennett is here. The Legion of Boom defense that destroyed the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII is unrecognizable. After that shattering loss to the Patriots the next year, nothing was ever quite the same.
“I kind of go with the Nelson Mandela approach, I feel like you never really lose, you either win or you grow from situations, and I think we were just growing as a team,” Bennett said. “We were a young team, who were having so much success … there was never enough cameras, every commercial was somebody on my team. It was just us growing; We just wanted to continue to grow. As you know, in this league, it’s hard to get back to those moments, and be able to win those games. Things happen, people get traded, new players come in, so things change.
“I think in an organization, there’s a shelf-life and a time for everybody. You end up just running your course.”
Bennett seems eager to hit “reset” with the Eagles.
“I’m super-excited about having the opportunity to play for this organization. I think Doug Pederson and everybody in this organization is just so upbeat, and it’s such a refreshing place to be, with so many great players around you,” he said. “There’s like, talk and chatter about places I could have been, but this is the place that I wanted to be, to have the chance to play in this city. This is a football city, this is a sports city.”
Bennett said he doesn’t credit the theory that the Seahawks moved this offseason toward a locker room that was less about activism and more about football. But in any case, he comes to a team that doesn’t seem nervous about or threatened by a man whose book, Things that Make White People Uncomfortable, written with Dave Zirin of the Nation, is due to be released April 3.
Bennett did not want to discuss whether he will continue to kneel during the national anthem.
“I’m just here to talk about football today. … Right now, this is mostly about me fitting in with this team and defining my role in it as a player. Let everything else happen as it happens,” he said.
“For me to be a part of an organization with people like [Malcolm Jenkins] … committed from the top to the bottom, is something I look forward to,” Bennett said. “I think me coming to Philly is not [just] about winning championships on the field, it’s also about being a champion off the field, and being able to work in the community with men and young women all across the city.”