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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs' Michael Bennett could benefit from thin free-agent market



It appears Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett has pretty good timing. And we’re not just talking about when it comes to rushing the quarterback.

Bennett, coming off his best pro season with nine sacks, becomes a free agent soon and will have the ability to sign with any team he desires. While he says he’d like to return to the Bucs, unless Tampa Bay strikes a deal with him before the signing period begins, other suitors might make it tough for Bennett to resist their lucrative offers.

This is where the timing comes in. Bennett is getting his first shot at free agency in a year in which there aren’t many great defensive end options.

Outside of Detroit’s Cliff Avril – the best option on the market – and aging Colts great Dwight Freeney, Bennett stands out as one of the top targets for teams looking for pass rushers in a 4-3 defense.

Bengals end Michael Johnson had 11.5 sacks and is very underrated, but there are already rumblings the team will use its franchise tag to retain him if the sides can’t agree to a long-term deal.

Whether Bennett is worthy of the kind of big-money deals we see at the very start of the signing period is debatable, but the business of football works like any other sector: It’s about supply and demand.

For evidence of that, look no further than Tampa Bay’s 2012 free-agent class. While cornerback Eric Wright is a solid player, he likely wouldn’t have struck a $37.5 million contract here if the cornerback market last season would have featured more options. As things turned out, he was considered the next-best available player behind Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr, who went to the Rams and Cowboys, respectively.

That said, Bennett is a very good player. His well-rounded game will appeal to teams because he can play -- in certain situations -- defensive tackle and he is quite formidable against the run.

Something to remember here is that things can always change. Players can be unexpectedly released from other teams, impacting the market. The draft is always a factor, too.

But this class of free agents won’t be as enticing as last year’s, and that’s certainly true in the case of defensive end. That can only help Michael Bennett – while working against the Bucs.

[Last modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 11:44am]


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