The New England Patriots defense is deep and talented — everyone knows that by now.
With several talented, quick outside linebackers and defensive ends, the Patriots pass rush has become elite. Not to mention the surplus of defensive tackles that can provide pressure and stop the run. With all these talented players, there is one who has gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit.
New England sacrificed a 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for Bennett and a 2020 seventh-rounder from the Eagles. A move viewed as a likely salary dump, the initial reaction was the excitement of having a veteran for a fairly affordable contract on a roster with an already talented corps of defensive players.
But the Patriots added more talent in the NFL draft a month after trading for Bennett while players who had been with the team for a longer stretch beat out Bennett for a starting job.
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Following the Patriots victory over the New York Giants on Thursday, a game in which Bennett played only 11 snaps, he began to voice his frustration on his current situation.
When asked about his current playing-time situation, he told the Boston Sports Journal:
“I don’t know what’s happening. You have to ask Bill (Belichick). I wish I knew. If I had a better answer, I would tell you. You’ve got to ask them, man. I’m just trying to do what they ask me to do.”
Bennett has grown accustomed to playing starter minutes with teams in the past. But now, at the age of 33 and on his third team in as many years, he’s just looking to prove he can still play.
And there’s no doubt he can still produce on either end. He showed that in a blowout win over the Miami Dolphins when he recorded a sack.
But his snap count isn’t just low, it’s his lowest ever by a wide margin. Bennett had never averaged under 50 percent of his team’s defensive snaps per game until this year where he’s averaging 34 percent.
The same principle the precipitated his trade to New England could be what drives him out. Although the Patriots reworked his contract, they might choose to look further ahead and get Bennett of payroll.
His base salary this season is $3 million with an additional $1.5 million available through incentives. But next season, the veteran’s salary goes up to $7 million, a steep incline for a guy playing in one-third of his team’s snaps.
Signed through the 2020 season, he might not have much football left after that pending injury or a decline in production as a full-time starter. The Patriots would likely release him next season if it meant bringing in a player at a position of need, like offensive tackle Trent Williams for example.
So in order to maximize what they get out of Bennett, a trade may be in the authing — a smart move for a Patriots team just one piece away on offense from being a true contender.