Michael Bennett talked about as biggest free agency prize

Michael Bennett talked about as biggest free agency prize

Credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates a first quarter touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during a game at CenturyLink Field on December 2, 2013.

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by Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports

NWCN.com

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 6:46 AM

As usual, when the bell rings Tuesday to kick off another NFL edition of Let's Make A Deal, the free agent, mega-million dollars will flow like a monsoon for the most coveted players.

Michael Bennett knows his big payday is coming.

Of course, the Seattle Seahawks defensive end is no Reggie White. Yet that's not the standard for determining market value. Bennett, 28, is young, healthy and powerfully skilled enough. He plays a premium position and just helped win a Super Bowl.

He won, too, gambling on himself on a one-year deal.

Now he's talked about as the biggest prize in free agency. Maybe Bennett will land with the Chicago Bears for a reunion with his brother, Martellus, the tight end. Perhaps he will wind up with the San Francisco 49ers and join the Seahawks' most bitter rival, with a chance to swing the balance of power in the NFC West.

Wherever and however, Bennett will be at the front of the first wave of free agency and the dollars will get crazy — perhaps topping the $12 million-a-year deal that the Miami Dolphins gave to a receiver last year.

The Dolphins, flush with cap space, signed Mike Wallace to the biggest deal in free agency last year (five years, $60 million) before making sure their quarterback had enough time behind his offensive line to throw it deep. And when Wallace didn't produce $12 million numbers, the signing was left open to further scrutiny.

This time, with ample cap room, Miami must address its O-line ... and can pursue the best left tackle available, the Kansas City Chiefs' Branden Albert.

That's the allure (and trap) of free agency. If you need a cornerback, you can chase after Aqib Talib, Vontae Davis or Charles Tillman. Looking for a receiver? Eric Decker and Golden Tate can be had, but be wary of the scary history of No. 2 wideouts getting paid like No. 1 receivers, then flopping when expected to produce like No. 1 receivers.

The indicators suggest that the market will open with a bang.

The salary cap, a record $133 million, has risen $10 million since last season; that's a collective $320 million, league-wide.

The "legal tampering" window that opened Saturday and allowed agents and teams to gauge interest is apparently more vibrant than last year.

Pre-market deals, sign-your-own contracts, have set a tone, too. Over the weekend, the Minnesota Vikings locked up defensive end Everson Griffen (five years, $42.5 million) and the Green Bay Packers kept cornerback Sam Shields (four years, $39 million) off the market.

Yet early splashes won't represent the complete picture. That will come weeks later, when the market settles after the first wave.

A reality of last year's market reflected a squeezed middle class of veteran players. It took longer to land deals, and the money wasn't what many projected. Some agents grumbled that it was the worst free agent market ever.

With more cap dollars in play, will it open up the market?

Some general managers project another soft market, but that could reflect their inherent positions in managing their salary caps. Agents are hopeful the market is truly fueled by the competition that intensifies when teams can't or won't sign their own.

Another factor that might impact this year's market is the deep draft that is around the corner. Several general managers have hailed it, with a record 98 juniors, as the deepest in years.

In any event, as always, cheaper labor beckons. Building through the draft has always been the best formula, to be supplemented by free agency. Yet as teams navigate the market, the equations have to account for raw talent to be developed, experience, chemistry and price.

Last year, one-year contracts were the rave. If that remains the case this year, it will douse water on the notion that more cap room sparks the free agent market.

Such short-term deals are hardly the preferred choice for players, given the risk vs. potential rewards.

Of course, sometimes it works out. Cornerback Brent Grimes parlayed the one-year, $5.5 million deal he took from the Dolphins last year into a four-tear, $32 million contract.

And look at Bennett. He settled for a one-year, $4.8 million deal from the Seahawks ... then handled his business on the field.

Now he's the cream of the crop.

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