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Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett retires from NFL and takes a rare skillset with him

2020-07-25

Michael Bennett’s career numbers may not scream legend. Only one 10 sack season in 11 seasons, 69.5 career sacks.

But he is a legend.

He was the definition of physical and positional flexibility when it came to defensive linemen. Bennett was so good within his specific role that he birthed an entirely new archetype for modern defensive linemen.

“We need to find the next Michael Bennett.”

“I think this prospect can be the next Michael Bennett.”

The truth is, Michael Bennett was one of one on that football field.

Bennett’s skill set was rare. Plenty of players have excelled at defensive end in the NFL. The NFL has had defensive tackles that can detonate a game plan with interior pass rushing prowess. There aren’t many players that could seamlessly do both.

If the legendary Legion of Boom was the engine of those great Seattle Seahawks defenses in the mid-2010s, and goodness gracious was that a powerful engine, and Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were the drivers, Bennett was the cooling system who made everyone’s life easier.

Need someone to stand up 330-pound guards on inside runs? Bennett could do that. Looking for a defensive lineman that can dust an offensive tackle off the edge with speed and finesse? Bennett was your guy.

And he did all of it well.

Bennett was such a versatile defender that his mere presence allowed Seattle go through a physical rebranding of their defensive line. The Seahawks defense that bludgeoned Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 did not resemble the last Seahawks’ defense Bennett played on in 2017.

They were sleeker and faster. They didn’t need to rely on nose tackle-sized defensive ends like Red Bryant to dominate the point of attack on outside run plays. Bennett was able to do that. Bennett allowed the Seahawks to build a role for Frank Clark without losing their nastiness along the defensive line.

Bennett’s success and style of play would fairly lead one to believe that he was a superstar at the NFL Combine, but that wasn’t the case. Bennett ran a pedestrian five second 40-yard dash at 274 pounds and hit 31 inches in the vertical jump. Nothing special.

What was special was his level of skill and craft he brought to defensive line play and a trait the Combine doesn’t measure well: balance. Players that size aren’t supposed to be able to bowl over and evade offensive guards with ease while finishing plays in the backfield.

132 career tackles for loss is nothing to sneeze at. Achieving that number as an average athlete, comparatively of course, makes his career even more special. Even as a 33-year-old player for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, Bennett was able to tie a career high for quarterback hits with 30 — good for fourth in the NFL that season.

His game was timeless.

Bennett may not have the strongest Hall of Fame case as he enters retirement, but his imprint on the game is clear. He was the type of player every defensive line coach wanted, but only a few could find.

Michael Bennett was a legend.