Bowers' upside was driving force behind letting Bucs' Bennett walk
The Bucs’ decision to let defensive end Michael Bennett leave as a free agent isn’t a popular one among fans.
It’s easy to see why: He’s a hard-working player who never gives up on a play, was the team’s leading sack man in 2012 and a player who is self made, rising from undrafted prospect to NFL starter. Bennett also had no problem playing hurt, which he did the past two seasons. Reporters love him because he’s affable and honest.
But there are reasons the Bucs made this decision, one they settled on long ago, in fact. Now, details of their rationale are beginning to emerge after Bennett signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks on Thursday.
The biggest reason is obvious. The Bucs want to further develop Da’Quan Bowers, who the team feels can take a major step forward with his first full offseason of work (he’s been injured the past two offseasons). In fact, the decision to let Bennett walk is more about Bowers and less about Bennett.
Clearly Bowers is highly though of, evidenced by the fact teams viewed him as an early first-round pick in 2011 before it was discovered there were issues with his knee. He had just three sacks in 2012, but he was coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon and was not in the starting lineup. The Bucs envision him playing significantly more snaps in 2013.
And that’s when they hope this next prediction will prove true: Tampa Bay sees Bowers as a player with more upside than Bennett. Some will agree, others won’t. But the organization’s assessment is that Bowers, who is just 23-years old, can flourish in the long term.
He was a proven pass rusher in college, leading the nation in 2010 at Clemson with 15.5 sacks. Bennett has 15 career sacks and didn’t become a starter until his third season.
While Bennett is well-liked within the Bucs organization, there are no second thoughts from the Bucs. They are emboldened by reality: Bennett wasn’t viewed as an elite player by other clubs, leading to his decision to sign the one-year contract.
One argument for re-signing Bennett in spite of the hopes for Bowers is the Bucs’ lack of defensive line depth. It’s a legitimate criticism, especially in light of the recent injury history among linemen. But the Bucs are banking on Bowers not coming off the field very much, in which case there would be less opportunity for Bennett to contribute.
Bennett could thrive in Seattle, a team with a gang of pass rushers that will put him in position for optimum rushing opportunities. Still, the Bucs feel confident in their decision. They never made a strong push to retain Bennett, suggesting they never wavered.
Everything in the NFL is a projection, and the Bucs are making quite a few when it comes to Bowers. And the good news, whether you agree or disagree with this move, is time will answer all the questions associated with this decision.