Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2018, 7:44 PM
The Eagles have a trade in place with the Seahawks that would send them defensive end Michael Bennett, along with a seventh-round draft pick, in exchange for wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick. The deal won’t become official until Wednesday at 4 p.m. when the new league year opens, but barring any glitches, the Eagles have seemingly added another piece to their formidable defensive line.
“We’re going to continue [to invest] in our defensive line,” Howie Roseman said last week at the NFL combine. “We feel very confident for us to be successful on defense, it has to be waves of defensive linemen, that those guys come in fresh, that they’re fastball off the edge and then the inside.”
The Eagles essentially traded Bennett for Vinny Curry. There’s still a small chance that Curry returns, but it’s unlikely. Dealing Curry will be difficult considering his contract ($11 million against the cap in 2018), and unless he agrees to a significant pay cut, the Eagles probably can’t afford him with the other investments they’ve made in the front four.
Bennett’s cap number ($5.65 million) is smaller than Curry’s with the Eagles and Seahawks set to eat about $5 million in dead money after both are moved. The Eagles save money with the quasi swap, while also attaining a more accomplished lineman. But Bennett is almost three years older and there is still a question of whether he will fit in Jim Schwartz’s scheme and in the Eagles locker room.
The first part may be easier to answer. Bennett has been a productive 4-3 end during his NFL career, particularly in his last five seasons with the Seahawks. He’s averaged almost eight sacks a season during that span, but numbers hardly explain his contributions. He’s an aggressive one-gap run defender, who can effectively pass rush from as wide as the nine-technique to inside as a tackle.
Bennett has different qualities than Brandon Graham, but both are similar in terms of versatility. Here’s a closer look at Bennett this past season and how Schwartz may theoretically employ the 32-year-old lineman:
OUTSIDE SPEED RUSH
In the Seahawks’ sub packages, Bennett (No. 72) lined up predominately at left end. It’s unclear where the Eagles hope to line him up. Graham started on the left and Curry on the right last season, with Chris Long and Derek Barnett as their primary backups. Bennett can do either.
On this rush against 49ers, Bennett motored around Joe Staley and used his hands to get by the veteran left tackle.
Bennett typically rushes from the seven or nine-technique when lined up at end. Schwartz, of course, prefers to rush only four with his ends pinning their ears back from the “wide-nine.”
OUTSIDE BULL RUSH
Bennett is a powerful 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. He has 34-inch arms. He uses a combination of speed, brute strength and length to bull rush tackles from the edge.
INSIDE PASS RUSHER
While Bennett only lined up inside in certain personnel groupings, he had more sacks last season rushing as a d-tackle (4-1/2) than as an end (4). Tackles had more time to react to his quick first step, but guards were sometimes left flat footed when Bennett attacked them with an outside move.
INSIDE STUNTS AND LOOPS
Bennett may not be as quick as he was, say, four years ago, but he compensates with football intelligence. Every lineman stunts, but Bennett has a knack for throwing off o-linemen with a variety of moves. He also has a relentless motor as he showed here when he sacked the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
Or here when he forced a throwaway. Bennett finished last season with 24 quarterback hits, which was tied for tenth in the NFL.
Like Graham, Bennett liked to set the tone for Seattle’s defense with an early run stop. In the first play from scrimmage against the Titans, he slashed into the backfield to drop running back Demarco Murray.
ONE-GAP RUN PENETRATOR
The Seahawks utilize a 4-3 “under” scheme in their base package. The front four shades to the weak side of the offense with the strong-side linebacker often walking up to the line. While this may give a 3-4 look, and there may be two-gap principles, the ends typically attack vs. the run. Bennett tallied 14 tackles for loss last season.
Bennett’s aggressive mindset would suit Schwartz’s run scheme, which attacks in levels. Of course, the defense is susceptible to big gains if there isn’t gap discipline.
Bennett played about 930 snaps last season or about 85 percent of downs. Graham, for comparison, played 666 or 65 pct. Bennett dealt with plantar fasciitis last season and missed a fair number of practices, but he played in all 16 games. He has played in 85 of 90 games, including the playoffs, over the last five years. Schwartz, who likes to rotate as often as any defensive coordinator, probably believes that fewer snaps will help the aging Bennett.
STRUGGLES VS. THE EAGLES
Bennett played 67 of 75 snaps against the Eagles in December, but he was credited with only one assisted tackle and one quarterback hit (on the final play). He wasn’t the first to struggle against Lane Johnson, but the all pro right tackle basically shut him down.
Left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and right guard Brandon Brooks also kept Bennett in check the several times they faced off against him. Stunts didn’t work either. Johnson and Brooks switched off here to the apparent annoyance of Bennett.
A DIRTY PLAYER?
Bennett endured some criticism a week after the win over the Eagles when he got tangled up with Brandon Linder as the Jaguars ran out the clock in the victory formation. He appeared to roll into the center, and after Linder landed on top of him, Bennett grabbed his leg and tried to tackle him.
Bennett was penalized along with two other Seahawks after the skirmish. But the NFL didn’t fine the defensive end. He was asked if he was surprised. “No, I didn’t do anything wrong,” Bennett said to Seattle reporters.