The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 preseason, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s offseason acquisitions.
Name: Michael Bennett
Position: Defensive edge
Jersey number: 77
Opening day age: 33
Size: 6’4, 275 lbs.
2018 review: Even though he came off his third straight Pro Bowl season and was second on the team with 8.5 sacks in 2017, the Seattle Seahawks decided to put Michael Bennett on the trade block. In early March, the Philadelphia Eagles acquired the veteran defender and a seventh-round draft pick for wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round selection. In Philadelphia, Bennett continued where he left off the following year.
During the regular season, he appeared in all sixteen of the Eagles’ games and was on the field for 716 of a possible 1,038 defensive snaps (69.0%). Lining up in numerous techniques along the defensive line — most prominently on the edge as an end/linebacker hybrid — Bennett was a core member of Philadelphia’s defensive front and ended the regular season with 9.0 sacks. Only All-Pro tackle Fletcher Cox had more quarterback takedowns for the team.
Bennett’s strong play continued into the postseason. He played 116 of Philadelphia’s 141 defensive snaps during the team’s two playoff games (82.3%) and again proved himself to be a disruptive presence that was sound when it came to setting the edge in the running game and productive in the pass rush. As a result, he added another sack to his numbers and finished the year with a combined 76 quarterback pressures.
Not only did Bennett sack the opposing passers a combined 10.0 times, he also added 22 hits as well as 44 hurries (according to Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton). He furthermore registered 23 tackles versus the run, with 7 of them losing yardage. No matter how the Eagles used Bennett and despite him playing in a new system, the former undrafted rookie produced another outstanding season.
This, however, created a problem for the Eagles as Bennett went on record to state that he wanted more money than the $7.2 million he was already scheduled to make in 2019. As a result of his demands, Philadelphia did just what the Seahawks did one year before: the team explored his potential trade market. In mid-March, it did find a club willing to acquire the 33-year-old — none other than the reigning champions.
2019 preview: The Patriots traded a fifth-round draft pick to Philadelphia to bring Bennett and a seventh-round selection on board. With standout edge defender Trey Flowers hitting the market a short time later and ultimately leaving to join the Detroit Lions, the veteran acquisition’s role seems to be clear: Bennett will help replace Flowers’ production in 2019 and as such play an integral role in New England’s defensive front.
Despite his comparatively advanced age, Bennett has proven himself a productive player — something that is not expected to change with the Patriots. Consequently, it would not be a surprise to see him again finish the season with similar numbers than those he posted last year: he will be in the running for the team-lead in sacks and total quarterback pressures, and also again be on the field for 60+% defensive snaps any given week.
No matter what kind of defensive front the Patriots will play in 2019, Bennett should fit in well given his versatility and experience: he is able to line up on the interior in obvious passing/amoeba defensive snaps, and also set a stout edge in the ground game on early downs. Flowers did all those things at a very high level during the last two seasons, and if Bennett can do the same, he will be a tremendous addition to New England’s defense.