The Eagles are trading Michael Bennett to the Patriots, NFL sources said Friday.
Draft compensation is still being ironed out, but the Eagles are expected to receive a 2020 fifth-round draft pick from New England for Bennett and a 2020 seventh-round selection, according to sources.
The trade can’t become official until the new league year starts Wednesday.
The Eagles were likely to release Bennett before the start of free agency Wednesday if they couldn’t work out a trade, sources close to the situation said. Their relatively small return in the deal with the Patriots suggests as much.
They started actively shopping the 10-year veteran defensive end last week after they re-signed Brandon Graham. Bennett had previously stated his desire to remain a starter, and with former first-round pick Derek Barnett and Graham returning, he was unlikely to get that opportunity with the Eagles this season.
Bennett’s contract — he has two years left with $7.2 million and $8 million cap numbers — was seemingly reasonable considering his production last season. He recorded nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and 30 quarterback hits during the regular season, and a sack, three tackles for loss, and three QB hits in two postseason games.
He also played through a foot injury that mostly kept him from practicing over the last month.
After Barnett was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff, Bennett’s playing time increased along with his production. He’ll turn 34 in November, and Graham will turn 31 in April, but the Eagles will pay the latter $13 million this season vs. Bennett’s $7.2 million, and Graham’s 2018 pass-rushing numbers (four sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 11 hits) paled in comparison.
Barnett had a solid rookie season in 2017. He notched five sacks and nine tackles for loss and played through a sports hernia. He got off a solid start in his second season but injured a shoulder and tried to play through it before his season was shut down.
The Eagles acquired Bennett last season in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. They parted with a fifth-round pick and wide receiver Marcus Johnson and received Bennett and a seventh-round selection. A year later, they get a 2020 fifth-round pick in return, but they part with a 2020 seventh-rounder and their most productive defensive lineman last season, aside from defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Bennett made an appearance on NFL Network Friday morning before the trade.
“You’re always caught off guard whenever your name is brought up in the trade blocks or being traded,” Bennett said. “But you understand that people want to acquire your services. I think we’re in a tough situation as far as the salary cap and I’m not willing to take a pay cut.
“I actually want a pay raise at this point. So whatever happens, just to know whatever team I go to, I want to get paid more than what I’m getting paid right now.”
Aside from Graham and Barnett, the Eagles’ other defensive ends under contract are Chris Long, Josh Sweat and Daeshon Hall. Long, who is in Africa climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, has said he would rather retire than return for a secondary role. He turns 34 this month and is under contract for one more year at $5.6 million.
Sweat, who suffered a season-ending foot injury as a rookie in December, and Hall, a late-season addition, are relative unknowns.
The Eagles now need more depth at defensive end. Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, and Dee Ford would have been the top free agents, but each was franchise-tagged by his team. They could still be traded, however.
Second-tier free agents such as Trey Flowers, Shaquil Barrett, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Ziggy Ansah will likely be looking for opportunities to start. The Eagles have only a third defensive-end spot to offer and could plow from a young, unproven crop, or from a group of aging former studs.
Dante Fowler, 24, could be an appealing option in the former category. Cameron Wake, 37, could qualify in the latter. Roseman might look to the trade market again. The draft, which could be as deep at defensive line as it’s ever been, offers its own potential rewards.
On the surface, retaining Bennett for at least one more season seemed like a no-brainer. In the final 11 games of last year, including the playoffs, when his snaps increased by 14 percent, he notched seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 20 quarterback hits.
He was relatively well-liked in the locker room, made friends with players of various stripes, and was a mentor to some youngsters.
But Bennett remained as outspoken as he was in Seattle and pointed out injustices as he saw them, whether it was his playing time or the lack of women of color on the board of Eagles’ newly created Social Justice Fund.
There is also a pending felony case after Houston authorities indicted him for pushing a disabled elderly woman — an allegation he denies — after the 2017 Super Bowl in which his brother Martellus played with the Patriots. A court date was recently pushed back again, and it’s been nearly a year since Bennett was charged.