Michael Bennett was dominating at the level of an indisputable first-team All-Pro, like somebody who pulls down $10 million or more a season.
He makes considerably less at the moment, of course. And he isn’t happy about it.
Still, he has gone about everything in the proper way: Showing up for the Seahawks’ camp without a holdout, playing better than he ever has, and competing with a ferocity that matches anybody in the game.
No question, the man could not be blocked on Sunday, by any of the various and sundry combinations of Falcons who tried.
Whether he was lined up at nose tackle or all the way out to the distant 9 technique on either side, Bennett was a moveable beast.
One time, he burst through the line so quickly he almost took the snap before Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. He was a wrecking crew.
And then, suddenly, in a stomach-turning moment, Bennett was down on the field holding his knee.
That’s how quickly it can happen in this game.
And it’s exactly why Bennett wants more money.
And it’s exactly why, now that we’re getting toward the middle of the season before he enters the final year of his standing contract, that it should be fair to start working toward an extension for him.
Bennett’s knee is going to be okay, coach Pete Carroll assured on Monday. The tests came back clear.
But it had to be scary for Bennett, nonetheless. Maybe he does it for dramatic effect, but whenever he’s asked about his contract, he likes to remind everybody that he has three daughters whose weddings he’s going to have to fund.
Bet he was thinking of that Sunday when he was being helped off.
Coming into the league as an undrafted free agent, Bennett has had unfortunate timing in his free-agency efforts. It leaves him nearing age 31 and performing at a level above the $7 million annual average on his contract.
Right, nobody’s going to do a Kickstarter campaign for Bennett. But it’s certainly possible he ends up making many millions less over the course of his career than defensive ends who are inferior.
You sign your contract … you take your chances. But this is such a meat-grinder of a profession.
The Seahawks have assiduously rewarded their “good soldiers” who contribute at the highest levels, but they get skittish about renewing contracts with more than a year remaining.
Fair enough. But Bennett should be getting close enough to fudge it a bit. And he’s clearly deserving.
Bennett on Sunday was playing at such an extraordinarily level, with five tackles, one for a loss on a run, and five quarterback hits.
At times, he split double-teams, other times he bull-rushed or end-rushed or looped on stunts with other Seahawks linemen. What he never did was put his motor in neutral.
And his defensive end buddy Cliff Avril was right there with him.
Before his injury in the second half on Sunday, Bennett served in an unusual role: Peacemaker.
Maybe cranky about his salary, and surely protective of his health, Bennett got into scuffles any number of times during training camp. Twice he had to be put in “timeout” to cool down.
But on Sunday, Bennett was one of the Seahawks who tried to calm down cornerback Richard Sherman when he blew a gasket after the Falcons burned the secondary for a touchdown.
“I was trying to bring us together … you have to let that moment go and focus on the bigger picture,” Bennett said. “It’s about winning the game and not winning that one play.”
Wise words from a veteran leader — and if anybody had experience losing his temper, it was Bennett. But there he was, the voice of reason.
Give the man more money. Think about what he’s done. Think about his knees.
Think about those needy daughters.