In an off-season without a ton of high-profile acquisitions, defensive lineman Michael Bennett's stature with the Patriots figured to be prominent.
Yet from the first days of training camp — where Bennett was excused for personal reasons — the brash former Seahawk, Buccaneer and Eagle has been nearly invisible in Foxboro.
Normally, that would be a good thing for a player with a history of causing friction. But as his playing time gradually decreased from Week 1 vs. the Steelers to last Thursday's contest vs. the Giants, Bennett reached a boiling point that's resulted in a one-week suspension from the team.
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Bennett, who played a season-low 11 snaps in a 35-14 win over New York, had a disagreement with position coach Bret Bielema over his usage that prompted Bill Belichick to deliver the 33-year-old Bennett a one-week vacation that'll cost him roughly $270,000 in salary.
So, we know the Patriots won't have Bennett available when they take on the Jets on Monday Night Football this week. What about beyond that?
Is this a point of no return?
After playing 37 snaps against Pittsburgh — 55% of the team's defensive total in the game — Bennett's playing time decreased in each of the next five games. While on the field, Bennett has been somewhat productive for New England with 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for a loss.
He's been lapped on the depth chart at edge rusher by rookie Chase Winovich, however, who already has four sacks and a defensive touchdown for the Patriots. Veterans John Simon, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise Jr. — the latter of whom was a healthy scratch in Week 2 vs. the Dolphins — have also taken away opportunities from Bennett, both on the interior and exterior of the line.
A resurgent Bennett would represent a luxury for New England, but he's hardly a necessity at this point, unlike, say, wide receiver or offensive tackle. With 25 sacks, the Patriots are second in the NFL through six weeks behind only the Panthers at 27.
Since Bennett has been relatively productive when he's actually played this season, there could still be some trade value there. He does carry a cap hit north of $10 million in 2020, however, the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Patriots upon landing in Foxboro, with a dead cap hit of $2 million.
Finding a trade partner wouldn't be likely, but it wouldn't be impossible, either. Identifying a contending team that needs help along the edge and has a surplus of receivers would yield a narrow return, but the Eagles, Lions, Broncos and perhaps Buccaneers would fit the bill.
Send Bennett to Denver for Manny Sanders, straight up? The Broncos have won two in a row and with the Chiefs suddenly looking mortal, may not want to give up the free agent-to-be just yet. But imagine Bennett lining up opposite Von Miller?
Would Philadelphia be interested in a reunion with Bennett just seven months after trading him? Bennett was complimentary of Belichick during his first media availability in July, saying, "It's nice when you have a coach that sees you as a human," but who was he referring to otherwise?
Releasing Bennett before the Oct. 29 trade deadline would be risky for the Patriots, as he could sign with a team of his choosing — including an AFC rival such as the Chiefs, Texans or Ravens. Should they wait until after the deadline, Bennett would be subject to waivers and may not make it to a team atop the standings.
Barring a drastic change in circumstances over the next two weeks, Bennett's days in Foxboro appear to be numbered. His acquisition from Philadelphia in the off-season went against the grain of how the Patriots tend to do business in the first place. While his contract is significantly cheaper than that of Trey Flowers, who he was ostensibly set to replace, Bennett has been in the league six years longer than Flowers. What happened to getting younger?
Like so many rolls of the dice through the years, Bennett is trending towards becoming more of a "bust" than a "boom." The cost to acquire him — a fifth-round draft pick, with a seventh-rounder also headed back to New England — was hardly exorbitant, but giving him a brand-new two-year deal upon landing Bennett could prove to be a costly mistake if the Patriots can't find a trade partner.
Not costly in terms of denying the team from winning a Super Bowl, of course. But like with several assets that have been mismanaged recently (see: Brown, Antonio), it's not making the degree of difficulty any easier, either.