SEATTLE, Wash. — Seattle Michael Bennett thinks he’s likely to be one of many discarded from a Seahawks’ era that may have just ended.
The two-time Pro Bowl defensive end told me at his locker following the 26-24 loss to Arizona in the regular-season finale on New Year’s Eve: “I probably won't be back next year.”
Bennett, 32, has three years remaining on a contract Seattle extended for $29.5 million through the 2020 season in December 2016, to get him $17.5 million in guarantees up front while he could still command them.
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Sunday, he had one assisted tackle and one hit on Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton. He twice came inches for sacks but Stanton eluded him for big gains, including a touchdown pass to Jaron Brown to end Arizona’s first drive of the game.
His was a finale that fit Seattle’s day and season: underwhelming, disappointing.
"Just seems like it's a young man's game. I can see them going younger, with younger players,” Bennett told me. “That's part of the game."
Bennett played through a torn plantar-fascia in his foot and a swollen knee, on top of a grotesquely bent toe that’s bothered him for years. In the first half Sunday he left the game for two plays to get his left shoulder checked by the Seahawks’ doctor on the bench following a hit.
He had 8 1/2 sacks in 2017, after five in 11 games in a 2016 season shortened by injury and a career-best 10 in 2015.
“People, a lot of fans don’t realize it when people have injuries and how they play through it,” Bennett said later Sunday after a large mass of reporters made it to his locker. “Most people tear their plantar fascia they don’t even do anything. I played through it the whole season. Swollen knee.
“You do what you can for your teammates. You do what you can. That’s just the sport.”
The husband and father to three daughters has seen up close how suddenly careers can end in the NFL. Fellow Pro Bowl end Cliff Avril, his best friend on the Seahawks, had his season end in October with a scary neck-nerve injury that led to surgery. The 31-year-old husband and father is facing the possibility of retirement this offseason.
Bennett has called Avril’s injury and situation “devastating” to him, Bennett, personally.
"It's one of those things where you want to be able to walk away from the game the way you want to walk away from the game," Bennett said on Nov. 30. "To suffer any injury of any magnitude, especially one like that one where you could have easily been paralyzed, it's something that you have to be able to try to move forward past. That's a hard thing to do.
“It’s always devastating to lose a guy and not know his future. His future is uncertain. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.
Some of Bennett’s words and hints this past week may be him seeing the writing on the veterans’ players walls in Seattle.
The Seahawks are undoubtedly headed for a transition this offseason, which is beginning early without playoffs in January for the Seahawks for the first time since 2011. The “Legion of Boom” secondary is 30 or turning 30, with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor ending this season on injured reserve because of a torn Achilles tendon and neck injury, respectively. Earl Thomas last week went to the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room and told their coach to “come get me” when “Seattle kicks me to the curb.”
A few minutes after he told me he thinks he’s probably gone, Bennett talked more about what may be next.
“I expect there to be a lot of changes,” he said. “Especially when you lose, there’s always changes. ... Like I said, it’s a young man’s game. We lost a lot of players, and we’ve seen some of those great players, when those young people got in the game they had to be prepared. So I could see trying to get those guys going and seeing what happens.
“With me, I’m fine. I mean, whatever happens, I’ve loved being a Seahawk. ... You love the organization. You love the players that you played with. We’ve won a lot of games. So if I am not here I would never have any hard feelings toward the organization. I love Pete Carroll and (general manager) John Schneider, and we just move forward. It’s part of football.
“This is just part of sports. It just keep growing and you continuously play for another organization, if you have the opportunity.”
Seattle and coach Pete Carroll's players-first, embrace-individuality environment in the Seahawks' locker room helped spawn Bennett's growing social activism over the last year. Beginning in August with the first preseason game Bennett began sitting during the national anthem before games, to protest the mistreatment of minorities and the need for police reform in our society.
In late August he was detained briefly by Las Vegas police officers outside a casino. He alleged racism and mistreatment. He said in early September he was considering a civil-right lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. That department vehemently denied Bennett's charges, and Bennett knew many people in the U.S. thinks he's lied about the incident.
In early December the Seahawks named Bennett its 2017 nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Asked following Sunday’s sudden, premature end to this wholly unsatisfying Seahawks season if he was thinking about retiring to his offseason home in Hawaii, Bennett smiled and shrugged.
“I mean, people think about retiring all the time,” he said. “But I continuously want to play with these guys, and see what’s next.
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