The writing certainly was on the wall, and on Thursday the New England Patriots made a move that did not come entirely unexpected: the world champions traded defensive lineman Michael Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys, getting a conditional seventh-round selection in the 2021 draft in return. While a day three pick does not look like a lot for a talented and experienced player such as Bennett, the move actually makes sense for all parties involved.
Yes, this is the rare win-win-win scenario. Let’s find out why all the parties involved benefit form making this trade, starting with the team that moved on from Bennett just seven months after acquiring him an signing him to a contract extension.
Why the trade is a win for the Patriots
When the Patriots sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire Bennett in early March, the expectation was that the team would use him to fill the role previously held by soon-to-be free agent Trey Flowers. Flowers indeed left the club a few days after the trade to sign a five-year contract with the Detroit Lions, paving the way for Bennett to become an equally integral part of New England’s defense.
This plan never materialized, however, as the role Flowers used to play in New England — 4-3 defensive end aligning primarily from the five and seven-technique spots — started to disappear from the Patriots’ new-look 3-4-based front. During the first six games of the season, Bennett was therefore on the field for just 133 of the Patriots’ 374 defensive snaps (35.6%) compared to 70.6% (832 of 1,179) with the Eagles during the 2018 season.
Needless to say that the 33-year-old was not happy about his usage and role, despite the Patriots playing some outstanding defense over the early portions of the season. His frustration ultimately led to a “philosophical disagreement” with his position coach, which in turned led New England to suspend him for one week for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Bennett never played another down for the club.
So why is this a win for the Patriots? Given the circumstances, the team made the most out of the situation as it recouped part of the original investment, was able to move a disgruntled player off the team to clear a spot on the 53-man roster, and also saved considerable salary cap space: according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan, New England saved $2.6 million with Bennett no longer on the books.
Why the trade is a win for the Cowboys
Only six teams have surrendered fewer points than the Cowboys so far during the 2019 regular season, so why would the team feel the need to acquire Bennett via trade — especially considering that he may have been a candidate to be released anyway around the NFL’s trade deadline next week? From Dallas’ perspective, there are two answers this this question and they are closely tied together:
1.) To improve the team’s defensive depth by adding an experienced and proven option that should fare better in Dallas’ 4-3 defense than it did in New England’s 3-4.
2.) To fill the role previously held by Tyrone Crawford, who was placed on injured reserve because of a hip injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.
The 29-year-old Crawford was no every-down player in Dallas, but he did play a valuable role as a rotational option at the edge and from the interior — a role that is now projected to go to Bennett, who should be in a better position to succeed now than he was in New England. Trading a seventh-rounder to the Patriots that could turn into a sixth if undisclosed conditions are met, also ensured that the three-time Pro Bowler would end up in Dallas.
After all, the Patriots could have waited to release Bennett until after the trade deadline. This would have made him subject to waivers, with the teams’ claiming priorities going worst-to-best. With the Cowboys opting to invest resources to complete a trade, however, they made sure to get the veteran lineman on board — all while the Patriots got something in return and decided on his landing spot.
Why the trade is a win for Michael Bennett
Earlier this week and coming off his one-week suspension by the team, Bennett was available to the media — and judged by his comments he was certainly did not appear to be overly happy about what had transpired over the previous week and the course of the season before that. When asked about whether or not he was happy in New England, for example, the now-ex-Patriot replied with a short but poignant “I don’t know.”
Now, Bennett is able to leave what turned into an unfavorable situation over the last seven months. The reasons for that are manifold, and some will likely never come to light (such as the exact nature of the “philosophical differences” that got him suspended in the first place), but it all boils down to role and playing time: Bennett was brought as a potential key contributor to one of the NFL’s best defensive units, but was never used that way.
Simply put, the Patriots defense as a whole moved away from Bennett since he was acquired via trade. The return of Jamie Collins and the emergence of Danny Shelton both contributed to the team changing its front seven from a 4-3-based unit to incorporate much more 3-4 looks. As versatile as Bennett is, he never quite adapted to the change and how it impacted his role on the team — something that should work better in Dallas.