RENTON Michael Bennett came off the practice field after fully participating in the first day of Seahawks training camp.
That alone was news. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle had continued to voice this offseason how unhappy, under-paid and under-appreciated he is. Yet just as he did last summer, he showed up for camp on time and a full participant -- just one in search of more money.
“I just want to show up and be a great teammate, no distractions for the team,” Bennett said Saturday at team headquarters.
“I just want to be a Seahawk for the rest of my life.”
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It sure looked that way during Saturday’s practice. How comfortable and happy Bennett appeared was almost as telling as him being there at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
At one point, Bennett shimmied and danced along with fellow end Cliff Avril to the rap music blaring from the sideline DJ.
Later during team scrimmaging, while the starters were on the sidelines as the second-teamers were in, Bennett turned to the couple thousand fans screaming his name 10 or so yards behind him. Bennett cupped his hand to his ear and raised his hands palms-up toward the foggy morning sky, asking for more noise. The fans dutifully provided that.
Bennett continued to clown playfully for those people minutes later. Avril stood behind his teammates, hands on hips, smiling through his face mask:
“He brought a bunch of juice today,” coach Pete 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. There’s nothing amiss about his ability or any of that kind of stuff. That’s why we want him to be here. 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’s finished playing football.
“So, we’ll see what happens.”
For the last year, Bennett has proclaimed to anyone with ears he is unhappy 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 also 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 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. 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,” he said.
Carroll said “of course” there was concern Bennett might not report, but Bennett had vowed last month he’d be here on time.
Bennett’s actions of 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 for $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 weekend 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. And Carroll credits Chancellor for making that so.
“I think there is a real strong messaging in our locker room,” Carroll 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 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). I think it also shows they trust...”