How would a Michael Bennett hold out affect the Seahawks?

Oct 22, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second quarter at Levi
Oct 22, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the second quarter at Levi /

If Michael Bennett holds out in hopes of getting an improved contract, the Seahawks lose more than just his pass rushing skills.

As fellow writer Keith Myers pointed out recently, defensive end Michael Bennett is once again unhappy with his contract, and once again skipping the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) this year. While the player has repeatedly said he has no plans to hold out, what happens if he does? How important is he? What do the Seahawks lose if there’s no Michael Bennett?

Firstly, the statistics, what do the numbers say? Bennett has lead the team’s defensive line in total and solo tackles for the last two years, and the entire team in sacks for the last three. Other statistics have improved over the last three years too, according to Sporting Charts he was fourth in the entire league in tackles for a loss in 2015, up from 20th in 2014, and all the way up from 60th in 2013. The same goes for Quarterback hurries, from 8 in 2013 through 13.5 in 2014 to 23.5 in 2015.

The numbers overall show he’s only getting better, and he made his first Pro-Bowl in 2016 too. Statistically he’s ranking alongside J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Oliver Vernon. According to Pro Football Focus he’s the best defensive lineman on the team, both against the run and pass, and one of the top five Edge Defenders in the league.

Secondly, what the statistics can’t or don’t measure… well the statistics I can get to… what does he provide on the field on every play?

You might be thinking: “isn’t that obvious?!?!” . Well… no. I still watch games like a fan, mainly following the ball, with maybe a quick look at offensive line movement on a running play or for open receivers on a passing play. I haven’t concentrated on a single player for an entire game for quite some years.

So apart from the obvious sacks, or tackles for a loss… what does Michael Bennett bring to the team? To help figure this out I re-watched a couple of games from last season: I picked the Week 5 game against the Bengals, his best regular season game for tackles and the most snaps he played in a single game; and the Week 7 game against the 49ers, when he registered 3.5 sacks and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Just watching Bennett play I was struck by several qualities:

Endurance: the Seahawks tend to rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh, however Bennett was consistently on the field, leading the defensive line in snaps played in almost every game last season.

Versatile: he played all over the line, and didn’t seem to be just the Right Defensive End or Strongside Defensive End, which is what I expected. From what I saw there was no situational substitution either, Bennett was either in, or taking a few plays out.

Relentless: on passing plays, he’s always pushing towards the Quarterback. If you need to stop him at the line of scrimmage for a deep passing play, rather than delay him for a breath by pushing him outside, it will usually take two players, not one, and two Offensive Linemen at that.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett pushes through a double-team against the Cleveland Browns
Need to stop Bennett? Send at least two Offensive Linemen. Picture Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Penetration: if you want to find Bennett before the snap and can’t see number 72, look for the distinctively short sleeves on his jersey; after the snap, look in the opponent’s backfield.

Solid: now I only watched a couple of games, and only noted a couple of things on each play… but I don’t ever recall him going backwards. Occasionally the Bengals and 49ers would try to run by him, but rarely they’d try to run through him, and it never worked when they did.

So overall, he’s a rock in run defense, and his pass rush is one of the reasons the team’s opponents concentrate on the short and quick passing game.

So what would the Seahawks lose? I think the most important factor is the speed of the pass rush, undoubtedly a factor in the success of the LOB over the years, and especially important now Bruce Irvin is at the Raiders. But there’s much more to Bennett than that; if he doesn’t play the Seahawks lose a key player, and someone whose presence directly impacts opposing offense’s plans.

Next: Why Seattle fans should be preparing for another Super Bowl season.

Bennett put it best himself, recently quoted as saying “I think I’ve definitely got a chance to be up there with the top guys, to be one of the top defensive players in the NFL. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was defensive MVP” ; I wouldn’t be either.