Tuesday’s reported bombshell trade that sent three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Michael Bennett from the Seattle Seahawks to the Philadelphia Eagles should show, in case there was any doubt, that the Eagles are serious about repeating as Super Bowl champions.
The Eagles capitalized on the Seahawks’ rebuilding effort, packaging a fifth-round pick and sparsely used receiver Marcus Johnson to Seattle for the 33-year-old Bennett and a seventh-round pick. ESPN first reported the deal, which can’t be official until next week’s start of the new league season.
Despite needing to clear cap space by next week, and despite their absence of a second- and third-round pick, the Eagles executed a move that doesn’t necessarily solve their financial problems and also cost them a higher draft pick than the one they brought back.
But the move unquestionably strengthens their defensive line, which was perhaps their best attribute last year next to quarterback Carson Wentz, and demonstrates executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman’s determination to keep the Lombardi Trophy in the glass case that’s housing it for the first time in team history.
Bennett, who has 23.5 sacks over the past three seasons, joins Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham, 2017 first-round pick defensive end Derek Barnett along with defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and defensive end Chris Long to maintain the depth that coordinator Jim Schwartz leans on so heavily. Bennett also plays inside and outside — versatility that fits perfectly with Schwartz’s line schemes.
Last year, Bennett racked up 8.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hits for the Seahawks. A third-down line of Graham, Bennett, Cox and Barnett will keep quarterbacks and offensive coordinators awake at night.
Bennett’s acquisition ensures that defensive end Vinny Curry is headed for the exit, and probably soon. Per a source close to Curry, the 29-year-old defensive end is expecting to be traded or released.
Curry played very well this past season and led the team in combined pressures and hits, with 41, belying his three sacks. But he wasn’t a major piece of the team’s third-down pass rush, and the Eagles believe his $11 million cap number won’t match the production.
Still, the Eagles aren’t helping themselves alleviate the roughly $10 million of cap space they need to clear in swapping Curry for Bennett. They’ll save $5 million in getting rid of Curry, but Bennett brings a reported $5.6 million cap number. He has three years left on his deal, but the Eagles could restructure the contract to lower his cap number for 2018 and perhaps move on from him after the season.
Roseman is no stranger to clearing space creatively, through crafty trades or contract negotiations. Clearing $10 million isn’t really problematic, especially with the Eagles able to bring back nearly every starter from last year’s team.
This move, pure and simple, is Roseman’s insatiable thirst to keep the Eagles at the top for another season, and maybe two, before the team will devote a huge chunk of cap space to Wentz, who will be eligible for an extension next offseason.
Paying elite quarterbacks top-end money puts financial strains on organizations and makes free-agent upgrades more difficult. Just ask Bennett’s former employers.
After consecutive trips to the Super Bowl in 2013 and 2014, winning the first and infamously losing the second on a goal-line interception, the Seahawks signed quarterback Russell Wilson to a blockbuster extension in the summer before the 2015 season. They haven’t advanced past the divisional round since, and have struggled miserably to find offensive linemen capable of springing the running game and protecting Wilson.
Roseman will have more moves coming, but this much is for sure: After winning their first Super Bowl last month, the Eagles will be well equipped to try again next year.
The NFL’s best team just got better.
— Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.