Help is on the way for the Dallas Cowboys defense, and it's a proven talent in defensive lineman Michael Bennett, whom the team by giving the New England Patriots a conditional seventh-round pick. It's a move that deserves both an ovation and an initially raised eyebrow, to be fair, and for a variety of reasons.
One of the more candid players in the NFL, Bennett has never been afraid to speak his mind or challenge coaches when he feels something isn't to his liking. After all, that's a key reason he's no longer in Foxboro, having been suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team -- following a verbal altercation with a position coach that wasIt'll be interesting to see how his personality meshes with the fiery duo of Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard, neither of whom have never been known to back down to a player.
To Bennett's credit, at least in this regard, it bears mentioning the disagreement in New England stemmed largely from dissatisfaction with his role there, having just one start in six active games.
He was able to deliver 2.5 sacks in limited play, nonetheless, and the Cowboys couldn't help but to pounce on the rift between Bennett and the Patriots once they figured out the New York Jets wanted a high price for defensive end Leonard Williams -- who will now suit up for the Jets' roommates, namely the New York Giants, in exchange for a third-round pick in 2020 and a fifth-round pick in 2021.
The odds of Bennett being upset about playing time in Dallas are slim to none, because unlike the Patriots, the Cowboys truly need him on the field. With Tyrone Crawford now on injured reserve following hip surgery and no news on a possible reinstatement of Randy Gregory, that's a combined 11.5 sacks lost in 2019 when you consider the two delivered 5.5 and six sacks in 2018, respectively.
Bennett instantly becomes a possible fix in that regard, coming off of a nine-sack season in 10 starts for the rival Philadelphia Eagles last season, and having 8.5 sacks for the Seattle Seahawks the year prior. Bennett won't simply spell Robert Quinn on the right defensive end, in case you're wondering, and I know you are. Like Crawford and, to a degree, former lineman David Irving, the Cowboys will flex Bennett between upwards of three positions -- including the right edge, the 3-tech (right of center) and 1-tech (nose tackle) as needed.
His ability to slide inside will also aid the inconsistent run defense, something the Cowboys haven't been stellar at this season. They need a more definitive presence on the interior, yes, but Bennett is better at the 3-tech than anyone currently on the roster, and that includes a talented -- but inconsistent -- Maliek Collins.
Bennett is expected to hit the ground running in Week 9 on Monday Night Football, with his snap count against the New York Giants being planned between 25-30 defensive reps or more, a source tells me of the Cowboys game-plan for Bennett, both now and later.
"He gives us outstanding position flex in terms of adding some pass rush or some pressure," owner Jerry Jones said of Bennett following the trade, via 105.3FM the Fan. "... He's just an established inside guy. The thing about Michael is he's got great motor. Boy, he plays with a lot of passion and enthusiasm."
Jones knows of what he speaks, and it's from experience, having seen Bennett rack up 7.5 sacks against the Cowboys in seven battles as a member of three separate teams. Basically, wherever he goes, the Cowboys must contend with him, but that all stops now -- because if you can't beat him, you make him join you.
"... [Bennett] played well against us every time we played him," Jones said. "He played well against us last year with Philadelphia. So, the scheme that they had him working in up in New England, which had a lot to do with us being trade for him, probably didn't utilize what he could bring as much as we'll be able to utilize him. And secondly he likes to play. He wants on that field.
"Well, you say, 'Duh. Doesn't everybody?' But when he's not on the field he's not as happy as he is when he goes out there and tries to make plays. So, anyway, this all fits for us. Obviously Rod Marinelli's one of the strengths of our team relative to his work with defensive linemen along with [defensive line coach] Leon Lett."
It's also key to note Bennett's time in Seattle coincided largely with that of Richard, who can not only vouch for the veteran pass rusher, but likely put a bug in the Cowboys ear to make the call for him in the first place. Then there's the added element of his brother Martellus Bennett having played tight end for the Cowboys, and you're quickly getting a blossomed idea of how well the team knows the Bennett family both on and off of the field.
It was a barbed-filled split from Martellus following the 2011 season and continued contention from him toward the Cowboys, and mostly Jason Witten, ever since, but younger brother Michael simply wants to play football -- in a much larger capacity than the Patriots would allow.
"The fact that he was with Kris Richard there in Seattle, the fact that -- from my standpoint -- I know him personally and have met him and his father before, knew him by way of Martellus Bennett," Jones added. "All of it fits."
The reality is the Cowboys don't have time to pass out Valentine's Day cards in October. The trade for Bennett makes more than enough sense from a football standpoint that it becomes virtually essential to overlook some of the non-football items. Richard knows how to manage a personality like Bennett, because he's done it before specifically, and the 20th-ranked defense in sacks lost a top rotational talent in Crawford; and they have no clue when or if Gregory will suit up in 2019.
For perspective, Bennett's 2.5 sacks with only one start this season is more than all but two players on the Cowboys roster. It's no wonder one of those two has already made it clear he looks forward to lining up beside the new acquisition.
"I think it was an excellent move," DeMarcus Lawrence told NFL Network following the trade. "… Just to have that type of energy and that type of player come to the team is tremendous. We're ready for him."
That's a major salute to a player some outside of the league view as a locker room distraction, but Jones joins Lawrence in seeing it the opposite when it comes to Bennett.
"He's known as a great locker room personality," Jones affirmed. "There's nothing negative about him as an individual. Now, of course, he does what all of his coaches and certainly his teammates and our fans want him to do, and that is he's got war daddy in him when he gets on the field. So, all of that is worth chemistry to a team.
"I like how his personality is. ... I know that he'll fit us great. He'll fit anything that I am about great, or that we're about as a team."
That fit extends to the financial aspect of the trade as well, because the Cowboys not only get a proven pass rusher that can and will flex on-demand -- for a pick that can't morph into anything higher than a sixth-round flyer in 2020 -- but they also have an easy contractual out in a few months if they deem it necessary.
They're essentially renting him in the second half of this season for a remaining base salary of only $1.69 million, and if they opt to cut him in the offseason, it'll save them $8.25 million against the cap. There's no dead money hit to absorb in the final year of his existing deal, so the Cowboys can literally walk away scot free. And so it goes, they've landed a potentially dynamic addition to their ailing defensive front and it only cost them a flyer pick in 2020 along with a minimal remaining salary this season; and all while having the ability to sever ties with zero financial ramifications when the offseason arrives.
As long as Bennett remains healthy and the team keeps him happy with his playing time, and they will, the trade is a master stroke by the Cowboys -- who knew they needed a bigger defensive paintbrush if they want to ultimately turn this season into a work of art.
And more of the Picasso variety, as opposed to the "Paint by Numbers" effort displayed in their three-game losing streak.