Michael Bennett is the best free agent defensive end on the market. Better than Cliff Avril. Better than Michael Johnson (who was hit with the franchise tag). Better than John Abraham and Dwight Freeney. That, at least, is what Lance Zierlein of Rotoworld writes after watching the tape and going through some game charting statistics.
This shouldn't come as news to Buccaneers fans who have been paying attention. While Bennett's 9 sacks are good, that number even underrates his pass-rushing performance. He produced some form of pass pressure on 7.5% of his pass-rushing snaps -- more than Michael Johnson or Cliff Avril. And no, he didn't end up with a sack as often, but that's pretty easy to explain: he was playing in front of the worst secondary in the league, and when the ball's out to an open receiver within seconds, you're not getting a quarterback down on the ground.
And then we haven't even mentioned his run defense, which is simply dominant. This makes him the most complete defensive end on the market, and one who is perfectly suited to the base defensive end role in the Buccaneers' defense.
Every time someone writes an article like this, an angel loses its wings. Or rather, the Buccaneers look more and more like idiots for not extending Bennett sooner. That's not just an incident: It's been a structural problem with Mark Dominik throughout his tenure. He lets players play out their contracts before extending them, which has happened with Jeremy Zuttah, Jeremy Trueblood, Quincy Black, Roy Miller and now Michael Bennett. And that then leads to some ridiculous deals, like the ones given to Trueblood and Black. A player's leverage is highest when he's a free agent, and lowest when he has multiple years remaining on his contract.
Now, if the Buccaneers want to keep Bennett, they have to pony up some massive amount of money. Had they extended him last year,or the year before that, he would have come fairly cheap. And it would have sent a good message to the team, too: you will get your money if you perform. Instead, they will now have to make a hard decision on Bennett, and risk losing a very good defensive end to free agency.