Seahawks show their players that good play equals good pay

March 11, 2014 

Remember when Seattle sports franchises — remote and chronically mediocre, or worse — had to pay surcharges to attract free-agent athletes?

Bidding was skewed in favor of almost every other team in the league because so few actually wanted to come all the way out here.

Now, they’re leaving money on the table for the chance to be a Seahawk.

In the case of Michael Bennett, one of the NFL’s hottest free-agent prospects, it was a matter of taking less money to stay here rather than bolt.

But the point is the same: The Seahawks clearly are now a destination franchise.

The defensive end and interior pass rusher opted to enter free agency to see what the market had to say. But despite interest from several other teams, which reportedly offered fatter contracts, Bennett re-signed with the Seahawks before formal free agency opened Tuesday.

Other situations aren’t always what they appear, he explained, and he decided he preferred to stay where he’s comfortable, where he feels appreciated and, oh yes, where he just won a Super Bowl.

Bennett warned at the end of the season he wasn’t interested in surrendering money with a soft “hometown discount” contract in Seattle.

And he surely will not be sacrificing by accepting the reported four-year contract with $16 million guaranteed.

But it could have been more elsewhere. And he might have played with his brother, Martellus, had he gone to Chicago.

On the part of Bennett, it shows he values the chance to stay with a team very likely to contend for future Super Bowls.

On the part of the Seahawks, it sends to the rest of the roster this important message: You perform, you’ll get paid.

Bennett came in from Tampa Bay last season on a one-year deal. He bet on himself. And he made it pay by leading the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks while playing a modest 57 percent of the defensive snaps.

He did it with a quick get-off, great hands and a knack for finishing at the quarterback. An important stat that goes unnoticed: In addition to his sacks, he led the team by a wide margin in quarterback hits (25).

The Seahawks already released defensive end Red Bryant and receiver Sidney Rice. Rice was a good teammate who came up with many key catches, but his impact was limited by injuries.

Bryant, though, was not just an important run-stopper and fan favorite, but he was one of the best leaders the team has ever had.

But he was also about to turn 30 years old, and, once he was off the books, the Seahawks were able to sign Bennett for roughly the same money Bryant was due.

Every move the Seahawks make these days is in the context of trying to stay competitive while positioning within the salary cap to lock up Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson in the next year.

These are the Hawks’ Big Three of elite, franchise cornerstone players who could be the foundation of a contending team well into the future.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to hear what Bennett had to say about the feedback he received from his teammates.

He’d heard from just about everybody, he said.

But one of the most convincing was Sherman, the All-Pro cornerback who could be a bank-breaker if he hits free agency after this season.

“Richard Sherman is one of the main reasons why I came back, too,” Bennett said Monday. “He was on me the whole time and just told me he really wanted me to come back, and how much I meant to the defense.”

So, it seems that the Seahawks’ investment in Bennett is also an investment in those players, like Sherman, who saw him as a critical element to the future of this team.

Opening the purse to keep Bennett shows the rest of the team that the paydays are out there if they earn them.

And in perhaps less than a year, Bennett will return the favor by working hard to convince Sherman and the others that they need to stay here, too.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ @DaveBoling

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