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In Michael Bennett, Dallas Cowboys Add a Difference Maker

As other teams in the NFL make moves to solidify themselves as contenders with the trade deadline a week away, the Dallas Cowboys jumped into the fray yesterday acquiring Michael Bennett from the New England Patriots for a conditional seventh-round pick that has the potential to be a sixth-round pick. With Tyrone Crawford placed on IR last week and the potential that Dorance Armstrong could join him as well, the Dallas Cowboys needed some depth at defensive end behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn.

On the inside, Maliek Collins hasn’t lived up to expectations and Trysten Hill has proven what many thought about him when he was drafted, that he’s a project.

Adding Bennett to a Cowboys defense that has had some really good moments but has struggled to get interior pressure makes a ton of sense. He’s a player that can step in as soon as the Cowboys are back from the bye against the New York Giants and be a playmaker for them.

In looking at this addition it’s important to assess three major elements of any player acquisition; cost, system fit, and the ability that the player brings to the table. In order to fully appreciate any addition made by the Cowboys, each of these things must be taken into account and the Dallas Cowboys nailed it with this move.

Cost

It’s incredibly difficult to do what the Dallas Cowboys have done in the last calendar year with trades, but they continue to hit home runs in terms of value given up for the player. In the Spring, they shipped a sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for All-Pro Defensive End Robert Quinn and yesterday sent a conditional seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots for another productive veteran in Michael Bennett.

Any time you can add a veteran with a history of production in the NFL for what amounts to a lottery ticket in the draft, it’s a no brainer. The Dallas Cowboys have pulled that off twice in less than eight months. Sure, it’s nice to have draft picks, even fifth-round picks or later, but you aren’t always going to hit on a Xavier Woods or Anthony Brown that late in the draft. Those picks are pretty much coin flips anyway, so why not take a shot on a player that has been productive and can still help you?

In terms of what the Cowboys had to give up for Bennett, that alone makes this trade an incredible value for the Dallas Cowboys.

The other cost aspect that warrants review is his contract. With New England, his contract counted $6.32 million against their cap, per OverTheCap.com. The Cowboys will be on the hook for $10 million in 2020 if they decide to hold onto him next year. If they decide they want to move on after this season, it only costs the team $2 million in dead money while freeing up $8.25 million in cap space next year. Depending on how this season goes, the Cowboys could absorb his contract as they’re at the top of the list of teams with the most salary-cap space in 2020. Per Todd Archer of ESPN.com, the Cowboys could cut him next offseason and save $7 million in cap space with no dead money on the cap moving forward.

This is such a low-risk move that makes so much sense for the Dallas Cowboys. He’s played 16 games in six of the last seven seasons. In every season in which he’s played 16 games, he’s had at least seven sacks. Five times in the last seven years he’s had 8.5 sacks. That’s really solid and consistent production for a player that’s moved around a lot.

Fit

Bennett slides right in as a backup at both defensive end spots and can play the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. When looking back at the film, there were times that they even had him lined up as the 1-technique on passing downs. He’s really good running stunts and has good change of direction for a player of his size.

Looking back at his game against the Dallas Cowboys in week 10 of 2018, he played all across the defensive line and had a fairly even amount of snaps at both right and left defensive end. He’s a versatile player that will help the Cowboys in a variety of ways.

There’s been a lot of talk about how he might fit in the locker room. However, Bennett had a lot of success under Kris Richard when he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle. He was part of a team that went to the Super Bowl. In 12 career playoff games, he had 4.5 sacks. He’s a tough player that can add another edge to a defense that could use some interior pressure.

In New England, Bennett saw his snap counts decrease each week as other players might have been better fits for the Patriots 3-4 defense. With the Dallas Cowboys, he’ll get back to playing 4-3 EDGE and bump inside on 3rd down or obvious passing situations.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Game Game Def Fumb Fumb Fumb Tack Tack Tack Tack Tack
Year Age Tm G GS PD FF FR TD Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits
2009 24 TAM 7 0 1.0 3 2 1 1 2
2010 25 TAM 13 2 1 1.0 15 13 2 3 2
2011 26 TAM 14 10 1 2 0 4.0 39 35 4 12 8
2012 27 TAM 16 16 3 3 0 0 9.0 41 34 7 18 18
2013 28 SEA 16 3 4 3 1 8.5 31 18 13 9 26
2014 29 SEA 16 16 1 0 0 7.0 47 31 16 14 19
2015* 30 SEA 16 16 2 0 0 10.0 52 33 19 18 30
2016* 31 SEA 11 11 5.0 34 24 10 14 19
2017* 32 SEA 16 16 1 8.5 40 25 15 14 24
2018 33 PHI 16 10 1 2 0 0 9.0 34 25 9 15 30
2019 34 NWE 6 1 2.5 5 4 1 3 4
Care Care 147 101 6 13 5 1 65.5 341 244 97 121 182
5 yr 5 yr SEA 75 62 1 7 3 1 39.0 204 131 73 69 118
4 yr 4 yr TAM 50 28 4 4 2 0 15.0 98 84 14 34 30
1 yr 1 yr NWE 6 1 2.5 5 4 1 3 4
1 yr 1 yr PHI 16 10 1 2 0 0 9.0 34 25 9 15 30
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/25/2019.

Ability

In six games with the New England Patriots defense, which has been as good as we’ve seen from that organization since winning their first Super Bowl back in 2002, Michael Bennett has had some solid production. Though he’s primarily been a part-time player in for the Patriots, he’s recorded 2.5 sacks, five tackles, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. That while playing just 30% of the available defensive snaps.

It’s evident that the switch back to the 3-4 for New England hasn’t been all that kind to Bennett, who’s thrived in his career as a 4-3 defensive end and pass-rushing defensive tackle.

In two games against the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Bennett was a monster. He recorded 3.5 sacks, nine total tackles, four tackles for loss, and nine quarterback hits.

He hasn’t had the same production through six games for the Patriots, but playing only 30% of the defensive snaps and playing out of position in a 3-4 defense has made it difficult for Bennett in 2019.

Though the production may not be there, the burst and talent are. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week one, the Patriots lined him up primarily as a 3-technique in the Patriots scheme.

On this play, lined up in the “B gap” Bennett engages the right guard on the snap and uses his strength to pull the blocker off-balance allowing himself to get in the backfield really quickly. James Conner makes a nice move to avoid the loss, but the penetration is unbelievable.

Breaking Down the Cowboys Addition of DE Michael Bennett 1

On this next play, Bennett is able to use a nice shoulder dip to get quick penetration inside on the left guard after again lining up in the “B gap” between the left tackle and left guard. He doesn’t get the sack, but he gets to Ben Roethlisberger, and hurries a shorter throw likely before he would have wanted to get rid of the football.

Breaking Down the Cowboys Addition of DE Michael BennettFilm Notes

  • Michael Bennett plays with a lot of power and utilizes a variety of pass rush moves. He’s a versatile rusher that can win in a variety of ways.
  • Bennett is a disciplined player. When he was asked to play the quarterback or the jet motion in the run game, he maintained his leverage, not getting drawn down the line of scrimmage.
  • He plays with a consistent motor in both the run and pass game. Even against Tyron Smith, when his initial rush was stymied, he’d still attempt to dislodge the block or work his way down the line of scrimmage to get into the backfield.
  • Good movement on stunts, which should fit in very well with Rod Marinelli’s pass-rush packages. He and DeMarcus Lawrence will make a very fascinating tandem when the Cowboys are able to put him at 3-technique defensive tackle. Bennett loops really well and doesn’t get caught up in the traffic jams that can slow your rush down.

On the interior, Michael Bennett is too quick for guards and centers to deal with. He has a really good first step and strong hands that allows him to shed the blockers attempt to latch on. When the Cowboys played the Eagles last year, they sent help to Bennett’s side of the line in the form of a tight end to double-team him or chip at the snap before heading into their route. On one occassion the Cowboys used Noah Brown to cut block him to prevent him from getting the pursuit.

As DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn continue to face double teams at a league-high rate, the opportunity exists for someone on the interior to cash in with pressures and sacks. Though Maliek Collins has had some pressures this season, he’s struggled to get to the quarterback consistently or win his one-on-one battles.

Adding Bennett to the defensive line, even at 34, gives the Dallas Cowboys another player who can win a one-on-one matchup and take advantage of the attention that their star defensive ends draw.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

In looking at each of the elements discussed above, I’d give the Dallas Cowboys an A+ for making amove that could pay dividends down the stretch in 2019 and potentially in 2020 for the low cost of a seventh-round pick. Teams that are contenders make these types of moves.

Though this move may not have the pomp and circumstance that the Amari Cooper trade did last year or the Robert Quinn did in the Spring, this move could be equally important for the Dallas Cowboys. With the stretch of games that they have coming after the bye and the slim margin for error, the Cowboys needed to add a difference-maker on the defensive side of the football. And at the low price of a seventh-round pick, the Dallas Cowboys did just that with Michael Bennett.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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