Heading into the 2013 offseason, one of the major story lines to follow in Tampa Bay was the future of defensive end Michael Bennett. The Buccaneers would obviously love to keep the defensive end around, considering that he was coming off his best season of his career, and showed signs of being an above average defensive end in the NFL. The concern for Buccaneer fans was the amount it would cost to re-sign the Texas A&M product, as across the Internet numbers from 6 million up to 12 million dollars per year were being tossed around. Today we learned more as it relates to the Buccaneers valuation of the four year veteran defender.
Mark Dominik told reporters that he would not be using any type of tag on Bennett. This means the franchise tag, which would force the Buccaneers to pay Michael 11 million dollars, or the transition tag, which would translate to a 9 million dollar pricetag, are both out of the question for the defensive end. What this means is that the Buccaneers do not value Bennett highly enough to spend that much cap space on him, and would likely need a more cap friendly deal to bring Bennett back to Tampa Bay in 2013. The Bucs will have talks with Bennett before he hits the open market, but it appears that Mark Dominik is content with Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers at defensive end.
Or is he? Dominik could be doing his best to drive down the price of Bennett by publicly stating that he would prefer to move forward with a defensive end coming off a season ending injury, and another end currently caught up in a legal battle over felony gun charges. If it works, and the Buccaneers are able to bring Bennett back at a more reasonable price, it would be a great move for Tampa Bay. But I believe that Mark Dominik truly is hesitant to offer a huge contract to a player who only stepped into a starring role in 2012, and comes with no other proof of being worth top 10 money as a defensive end. Remember that this is the same Michael Bennett who was waived by the Seahawks after going undrafted, and will be turning 28 this season. Compare him to Kamerion Wimbley, who had a much more productive history as a defensive end before hitting free agency in 2012. He signed with Tennessee with a 5 year deal for 35 million dollars, including a decent signing bonus and front-loaded guarantees giving the Titans flexibility to let him go at the end of the deal if he doesn’t stack up at an older age.
I believe it is a wise decision to avoid franchise tagging Bennett. He was a contributor to a very strong run defense in 2012, and was the main pass rush option, but he’s not proven enough to command a huge paycheck that could hamstring the Buccaneers if Bennett turns out to be a one year wonder. The Bucs are in a rebuilding process, and Mark Dominik has to be smart about the money he spends. And if Michael Bennett is going to command 8 or 10 million dollars per year, I am sure he would be more inclined to sign or draft a more affordable option, and hope the legal system shows mercy to Da’Quan Bowers.