The two Michael Bennetts seem increasingly at odds.
The paradoxical warrior/philosopher of the Seattle Seahawks is spinning out toward the poles — somewhere in the vortex between the thoughtful family man and the combative defensive end.
Daily, it seems, we chronicle this man’s alternating search for internal peace or an external fist fight.
This duality makes him a fascinating study. “He’s the most interesting guy on the team,” said Cliff Avril, fellow defensive end and friend to both of the Michael Bennett personas.
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It has made Bennett the focus of the Seahawks’ early season and leaves us trying to gauge his equilibrium — and project whether these forces will keep him running hot and productive or at some point send him off the rails.
The outcome is crucial to the Seahawks, as he’s among the best players, and one of the most strident voices, in the locker room.
All seem to agree that none of the headlines are a matter of selfishness or the need for attention, but of Bennett’s passion.
“If he believes in something, he shows it in a very passionate way,” Avril said. “That’s how he is.”
There’s nothing contradictory about his identities when placed in their proper context, Bennett claimed.
“This is the actual gladiator arena,” he said of the football field. “But at the end of the day, I go home and try to be as peaceful as I can. I’ve got three daughters; I play with them, play with the dogs, so I’m happy.”
Well, at times he’s seemed considerably less than happy. Although always entertaining.
A man of dimension and depth, he addresses the topics of social inequality, race relations, the global welfare of children, healthy eating, and the importance of literacy as a building block of a functional democracy.
He has the unfiltered humor of a Charles Barkley, and when turned loose with his brother Martellus (tight end, Patriots), the two comprise a mesomorph improv comedy team.
Further, Bennett embraces strong principles and lives by a code of his own construct, respecting the lives, livelihoods and physical well-being of everyone — except quarterbacks, of course, a subspecies of pampered, self-entitled vermin.
“He’s a very smart man,” Avril said. “He reads a lot and knows a lot about so many things. He’s such an awesome father, I’ve learned things from him as a parent. He’s just an all-around good person who has so many dimensions to him.”
It may be this level of awareness that causes Bennett to chafe, specifically realizing that a professional football player who underperforms may be summarily cut by the team, while one who outperforms his contract is an on-going bargain for his employers.
Which is a fine capitalist situation, except when the commodity has the brief shelf-life of an NFL lineman.
Bennett, 30, is recognized as one of the best defensive ends in the league (Pro Bowl 2015), but is paid, according to various reports, less than as many as two dozen other defensive ends in the league.
He’s evolved into a unique breed of defender, with a hair-trigger get-off and maybe the quickest hands on a defensive front in the NFL, at times resembling Bruce Lee chopping away at blockers’ grasps.
But at other times he’s vapor, splitting a tiny gap in double teams only to reappear full-forced in the backfield to disrupt the play before it gets started.
Game after game, this guy plays like a samurai.
“It’s pretty cool to see the transition in him, the way he turns it up on the field compared to the person he is at home,” Avril said.
Bennett’s salary, roughly a $7 million annual average, is a matter of timing more than the Seahawks’ parsimony. He’ll be 31 in November, and 32 when his current contract expires. Pretty late for another big contract.
The management, meanwhile, maintains a stance against renegotiating contracts with multiple years remaining. Given the number of elite players contributing to the Seahawks’ success, early salary escalations would tip the series of dangerous fiscal dominoes.
What to do? Some players hold out. But it’s a largely futile endeavor against a deck stacked toward the house.
In both last season and this, Bennett showed up to camp on time. He made his best argument for a raise by having his finest season last year.
“I just want to show up and be a great teammate, no distractions for the team,” he said at the start of this camp.
None of this has gone unnoticed, of course. And it’s been appreciated in all the non-monetary ways.
“He’s a great factor on this club,” coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s why we want him to be here and we want to figure out how to make him a Seahawk until he finishes playing football.”
Maybe the Hawks can find a way to finesse something toward the end of the season, when it gets closer to that one-year threshold for re-upping. But if there’s been any hint of movement, it hasn’t been leaked.
So, he’s been cranky and taking quick offense. Among minor scuffles came a two-round tangle with tackle Bradley Sowell, which was more than a quick tussle fueled by bubbling testosterone.
I couldn’t hear what Bennett was yelling, and couldn’t write it even if I had. But it’s easy to speculate that Bennett wasn’t just battling Sowell.
He had to be raging against the system, the salary cap, the Seahawks’ policies, and probably against his own bad timing, playing at a level that makes him such a bargain.
It’s all been enough to test a samurai’s inner peace.