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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Could Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett be headed for the free-agent market?




Defensive end Michael Bennett, the Bucs’ leading sack man in 2012 and, perhaps, the team’s biggest free agent this offseason, is preparing himself to test the open market when the free-agent signing period begins on March 12.

Despite some conversation between Bennett and the Bucs, there presently is no momentum toward a deal being struck before the signing period begins. Teams can re-sign their own free agents at any point before then.

Bennett had a career-high nine sacks last season and continued to show his versatility, playing his standard defensive end position but also filling in as a pass-rushing defensive tackle in certain instances.

The 27-year old Bennett has spent each of his four seasons with Tampa Bay, save for his first preseason in the league, in 2009, when he was with Seattle. He has shown steady improvement but the Bucs’ recent investments at defensive end surely will impact negotiations with Bennett.

The team in 2011 drafted defensive ends Adrian Clayborn (first round) and Da’Quan Bowers (second round). Both have shown ability and have upside but each has been beset by injuries in their first two seasons.

Bennett, 6-4, 274 pounds, earned $2.742 million in 2012 while playing on a restricted free agent tender. This would be his first foray into unrestricted free agency. It remains unclear what kind of contract Bennett is seeking, but it could be more than the Bucs are willing to pay given their two starting-caliber ends.

Bennett acknowledged the possibility of playing elsewhere long ago, saying in December, “I love the Buccaneers, but it's a business. You've got to do what's best for your family.”

And a family concern of another sort is in the picture for Bennett: he and his brother, Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, have said they’ve considered playing together as pros after doing so in college. Martellus also is a free agent, though the desire to play together is not expected to be the deciding factor in where they ultimately land.

With more than three weeks remaining before free agents are permitted to sign with other teams, many negotiations between clubs and players haven’t yet ramped up.

However, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik has maintained his priority is to first deal with his own team’s free agents – like Bennett.


[Last modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 4:41pm]


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