Michael Bennett could be forgiven for thinking of one item each time he storms into opposing backfields to ruin plays.
A cash register.
The Seahawks’ speedy defensive end made no secret last spring and summer about his unhappiness with the $28.5 million, four-year contract he signed before the 2014 season, complaining that it was below market value after only one year, compared with the rest of the league’s defensive linemen.
He said he contemplated skipping some of training camp because of his dissatisfaction.
Yet unlike equally unhappy teammate Kam Chancellor, Bennett showed up on time for camp in late July. He mentioned then that he hoped general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll would address his contract — read: add more money to it — after the 2015 season.
Then he played in every game. And not just played, but excelled. Despite battling through a painful and grotesque-looking big toe — which got so bad that he got an injection into it last week — Bennett hasn’t missed a game. He has a career-high 10 sacks entering Sunday’s divisional playoff game at Carolina, and he’s been selected for his first Pro Bowl.
Bennett has played as an end on early downs, blowing past slower tackles. He’s moved inside as a hybrid tackle on passing downs, zooming around and through guards and centers.
Last weekend at Minnesota, Bennett spent almost as much time in the backfield as Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson. The number of his tackles — Bennett had 52 in the regular season and nine more in the playoff opener — only begins to tell how disruptive to opponents he has been all season.
Does he think all that will result in a raise this coming offseason?
“My position is always the same. I think I’m one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL,” Bennett said, “and I could play any position. So I will let it unfold when it comes around.”
Schneider has made it clear that the Seahawks don’t renegotiate contracts that have more than one season remaining on them. That stance became clear as Chancellor’s holdout went through all of August’s preseason and then through the first two games of the regular season before the strong safety returned without a raise.
Bennett’s contract will have two more years on it after this season. But the team did, in 2014, add money to running back Marshawn Lynch’s contract to get him to end a weeklong holdout at the start of training camp.
Asked if he thinks he’s gained admiration and traction in contract considerations by how he’s played hurt while not missing a game this season, Bennett shook his head.
“I don’t know. I think every guy in the NFL is playing through injury, whether it’s been Big Ben (Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh’s quarterback), or (Atlanta wide receiver) Julio (Jones) with his ankle,” Bennett said. “Everybody has some kind of injury going on in the NFL.
“I don’t know if it’s going to hold much clout, but I just try to do my job and keep going from there.”
Bennett fell to the turf, injured, late in the playoff win at Minnesota. He initially feared torn knee structures, then got up, limped off with a team doctor — and missed only one play before re-entering and finishing the game. He said his troublesome toe had again popped out of place and that he may have tweaked something in his knee.
He didn’t practice Wednesday, what’s been his normal day to rest lately, and was limited in Thursday’s workout. He practiced fully on Friday before the Seahawks left for Carolina, and the team lists him as probable to play — which he will. Again.
Bennett and Cliff Avril are Seattle’s biggest advantages against Carolina’s offense, which led the NFL by scoring more than 31 points per game this season. The most ineffective parts of the Panthers’ attack have been their offensive tackles, Michael Oher and Mike Remmers. If Bennett and Avril continue to be as quick off the snap and disruptive into the backfield as they’ve been all season, Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton are going to have issues off both edges.
Carroll said this week that Bennett had a “strawberry,” a rash-like burn, on his knee.
“Yeah, Pete,” Bennett said, shaking his head with a small grin. “He likes to make jokes.”
TE Luke Willson, the starter since Seattle lost Jimmy Graham to knee surgery in late November, practiced fully all week and will play Sunday. Willson missed the last two games after he sustained a concussion on Dec. 27 against St. Louis. … FB Will Tukuafu (hamstring) is doubtful to play Sunday, but accompanied the team Friday to Charlotte, North Carolina. ... Derrick Coleman is likely to be the primary blocking back for returning lead back Marshawn Lynch. … The updated weather forecast for Sunday’s game in Charlotte: a chance of snow in the morning before kickoff, a 30 percent chance of rain into the second quarter, then eventually sunny with temperatures in the mid to upper 40s. That will be about 50 degrees warmer than it was for the Seahawks last weekend at Minnesota.