TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 27: Defensive lineman Michael Bennett #71 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates a sack against the Miami Dolphins during a preseason game at Raymond James Stadium on August 27, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a number of free agents, but none of them (outside maybe Legarrette Blount) warrant a new contract - except for defensive end Michael Bennett, that is. There wasn't much to enjoy about the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the DEs at least provided some light. Adrian Clayborn had a solid first season in the NFL, but it was Michael Bennett who really stood out.
While Bennett has always had the talent, he never produced steadily. He was undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2009, and the Buccaneers picked him up on waivers after the Seahawks cut him. Since then Bennett has steadily increased his role on the team, and he really took off this season. While his numbers aren't spectacular - 4 sacks and 39 combined tackles in 14 games - Bennett's steady play deserves some recognition.While Bennett was pretty good as a pass rusher and made some wow plays at times (his 7 quarterback hits ranks second on the team), he most stood out in run defense. He notched a whopping (and team-leading) 12 tackles for loss and his 39 tackles were second among the Bucs defensive linemen, despite missing 2 games and being absent for parts of other games with injury.
Michael Bennett has gone from a raw, undrafted player with few accolades to a well-rounded and reliable defensive end. That's why he deserves a new contract, and why it would be terribly stupid of the Bucs to let him walk. While they do have Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers to play defensive end, having another quality player at the position is no luxury. Especially so because Bowers can't be counted on: he showed flashes of good play, but he was also out of his gap or shut out of the play with some frequency.
Of course, the Bucs don't need to offer Michael Bennett a long-term contract right now. He's a restricted free agent, which means the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can offer him a one-year and fairly cheap tender. That's not a smart move for two reasons: other teams could poach Bennett by signing him to a contract, though they would have to give up a first-round pick and the Bucs would get the chance to match that contract.
More importantly, re-signing Bennett would still be relatively cheap at this point. His numbers aren't eye-popping and the Bucs could lock him up for the long term with a reasonable contract. That won't be the case if they tender him and he has a real breakout season. That could certainly happen, as the defensive end has the talent to do very well in this league.
There won't be a lot of re-signings at One Buc Place this offseason, but Michael Bennett's re-signing needs to happen before free agency starts on March 13th.