While in formation at his defensive-end spot, Michael Bennett danced and shimmied as Fetty Wap blared from the sideline speakers between plays.
A few minutes later, Bennett was cupping his hands to his ear asking the thousands of fans behind him for more noise. They obliged.
Then he continued clowning for the folks, his back turned to the field. Fellow Seahawks end Cliff Avril just stood behind him, hands on his hips, laughing through his facemask.
Bennett looked anything but unhappy Saturday during Seattle’s first day of training camp. The Pro Bowl defensive end didn’t sound unhappy, either.
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“I just want to show up and be a great teammate, no distractions for the team,” Bennett said, following the two-hour practice at team headquarters to begin the preseason.
“I just want to be a Seahawk for the rest of my life.”
For the last year, Bennett has proclaimed to anyone with ears he is upset with the contract he signed before the 2014 season. That four-year deal worth $28.5 million has two years remaining. It is scheduled to pay him $4 million in base pay this year. He signed it just before the market at his position jumped past him, which happens in a rich league where the salary cap has been increasing annually by double-digit percentages. He is at an age, 30, that he knows his potential to earn more is rapidly approaching its end.
Bennett is coming off a 2015 season in which he had a career-best 10 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl. He’s spent much of the last two seasons in opposing backfields beating slower offensive linemen off the ball, while playing outside as an end on early downs and inside as a zooming tackle on passing downs. His 91 pressures of the quarterback in 2015 led the league, and he has 162 over the past two years. Yet he is the league’s 27th-highest paid defensive end.
Ends that have accomplished far less than those numbers and his Super Bowl championship have signed for far more than Bennett did two years ago, such as: Fletcher Cox, 25, six years and $102.6 million with Philadelphia; Olivier Vernon, 25, five years for $85 million with the New York Giants; Robert Quinn, 26, four years and $57 million from the Los Angeles Rams. Quinn signed his contract a few months after Bennett signed his.
Thursday, Seahawks general manager John Schneider seemed to confirm he’d met this week with Bennett’s agent, Doug Hendrickson. The GM said when asked about Bennett’s contract situation: “90 percent of my job is listening.”
So what does Bennett think he deserves?
“I think I deserve to be paid the position that I play in. I play four positions for the team,” he said. “I do whatever I can to help the team win. So hopefully everything works out and you get compensated for the way that you play, and it’d be good.”
Coach Pete Carroll said “of course” there was concern Bennett might not report. But Bennett had vowed last month he’d be here, on time.
“He brought a bunch of juice today,” Carroll said. “He was in great spirits. He had a great attitude about it. He’s just being Michael Bennett that he is.
“Mike is a tremendous team player. And he’s always been that. Not to mention about his ability, he’s a great factor on this club. 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.
“So, we’ll see what happens.”
Bennett showing up and participating fully are opposite what Kam Chancellor did last summer. The star strong safety skipped 53 days from the start of 2015’s training camp through the first two games of the regular season, both of which Seattle lost. When Chancellor returned after being subject to $2 million in accrued fines, he got nothing more on his deal. The Seahawks held to Schneider’s stated position of not re-negotiating contracts that have multiple years left on them. Chancellor admitted online last week that his holdout was a mistake.
This is the first time since 2013 the Seahawks haven’t had a holdout to begin training camp; now-retired running back Marshawn Lynch missed the first week of camp in 2014.
Carroll credits Chancellor for everyone being here.
“I think there is a real strong message in our locker room,” the coach said. “These guys want to be a part of this thing. They don’t want to be the one that disrupts it. They don’t want to be a part of that. We went through really a real learning process last year with one of our great competitors and great players in Kam. I think he’s helped people understand what this is all about. He’s been a big inspiration, I think, to anyone that would think that way (about holding out).”
Bennett spoke after practice while wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. He talked about that issue far more than his contract one.
He spoke at length about his belief athletes should take stronger social stands.
“Yeah, we talk about it all the time,” Bennett said of the Seahawks’ locker room. “But, I mean, it’s just one of those things where eventually we’ll have to get together as a whole sports community. Because at the end of the day, athletes have a brand and we control what is sold in America …whether it’s shoes, clothes, whatever, a drink, soda, food. Athletes hold the key to what people want.
“So as athletes we need to start controlling that influence and keep it positive and not always about dollar to dollar. Finding a way to make it something sustainable so when we’re in the community, make the sustainable event … not so much about money.”
Bennett got to the heart of why most pro athletes have been reluctant in the past to speak out on social issues in our country.
“If we really want to be a great influence … you can’t really worry about the marketing dollars behind you, because brands control everything,” he said. “The women in the WNBA have really stood up for what they want, and I think it’s time for players in the NFL.
“You know, most of the players in the NFL are black … but a lot of things in the NFL are so broken. You don’t see a lot of great players talking about things socially, whether it’s Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, all these guys, they’re white. They don’t have to deal with things that we deal with these things as the black players, so there are not as many as in the NBA, where everybody is standing up for it. … Here in the NFL, the greatest players aren’t in the forefront of the movement.
“Our great players are just sitting back, taking the dollars — whether it’s Cam Newton, all these guys. They aren’t really on the forefront of trying to change what’s going on.”
Asked why he thought that was, Bennett said: “A lot of players are really trying to get on Nike commercials and trying to do all this stuff. But at the end of the day, players, we have to realize that we control everything…
“Players have more control over everything that’s going on, socially and things like that.”