Free Agent Duel: Bennett vs. Tate
Our Free Agency coverage at PFF has started already, with Gordon McGuinness and Pete Damilatis giving you their thoughts on some potentially tough decisions facing teams around the league as we approach the start of the new league year. You’ve already seen them look at the conundrums facing the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos, but there are plenty more questions to be answered.
This time their focus turns to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, who have eight players who played 450 or more snaps in 2013 listed as unrestricted free agents. That includes key contributors to the Super Bowl run like defensive end Michael Bennett and wide receiver Golden Tate. What will the Seahawks’ top priority be, keeping a player who puts opposing quarterbacks on their back, or a receiver who makes life easier for their own signal caller?
The Case for Bennett
by Gordon McGuinness
The Seahawks built the core of their Super Bowl winning team through some fantastic late round draft picks. With players like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor arriving via fifth round selections it freed up some extra money for them to make some luxury signings. That included bringing in Bennett on a one-year deal last year, after the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers standout failed to find a multi-year deal with concerns about rotator cuff injury scaring teams off. He became one of the best signings of the year, playing a key role in a Seahawks defense that steamrollered their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
From 434 pass rushing snaps in the regular season and playoffs, Bennett produced 11 sacks, 17 hits and 47 hurries, good for a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 13.6 that was bettered only by Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake at defensive end in 2013. His best play came in the playoffs, where he had a PRP Rating of 14.5, with his most dominant performance coming in the Divisional Round against the New Orleans Saints. Playing inside 19 of his 56 snaps at the left defensive tackle spot, he made light work of Saints right guard Jahri Evans, beating him for a sack and five hurries as a pass rusher, and getting past him to force a fumble from running back Mark Ingram.
That performance highlighted another aspect of Bennett’s importance, the fact that he can play so well both as an edge rusher and inside. Playing on the outside in the Seahawks’ base defense, and moving inside on obvious pass rushing downs, he saw 275 of his 759 snaps come at either nose or defensive tackle.
He was the second-highest graded player on a talented Seattle defensive line, and offers a versatility that the likes of Brandon Mebane simply don’t have. And even with a fairly stacked class of edge rushers this year, Bennett is still the best fit for the Seahawks. A blend of versatility and performance that’s tough to match, the Seahawks would be foolish to let him go after such an impressive year.
The Case Against Bennett
By Pete Damilatis
Let’s first get something out of the way: I have long been a huge Bennett fan. We trumpeted him as the best free agent edge defender last year, and I was flabbergasted when the rest of the league allowed the Seahawks to add him for a reasonable deal. I wasn’t surprised in the least when he stood out week after week, and he’s worth every dime he’ll get in his next contract. But that’s what will make it tough for the Seahawks to re-sign him.
The Seahawks have a huge advantage over the rest of the league with Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas still earning bargain salaries on their rookie contracts. General Manager John Schneider played his hand brilliantly by using this leeway to add key championship pieces like Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Percy Harvin, but the window is closing. Early reports have the Seahawks and Bennett committed to re-signing, but it’s easy to be positive in the afterglow of a Super Bowl run. Reality often sets in weeks later when actual dollar figures are thrown around and egos are tested.
At 28 years old, this is Bennett’s last chance to cash in with a huge deal, and the Seahawks future commitments may not allow them to offer the long-term contract he desires. With just one year left before Wilson’s negotiation window opens, it’s more realistic to offer another “prove it” deal to a defensive end like Lamarr Houston or Willie Young. Neither may match Bennett’s production, but they can come close enough to be the better value for Seattle.
The Case For Tate
By Pete Damilatis
You can’t blame fans for underestimating Golden Tate. Nothing about his 5-foot-10 frame or 898 receiving yards this season screams “No. 1 wide receiver.” But he’s earned a +20.8 overall grade in the past two seasons, placing him among the Top 25 wide receivers. While he may not have the physical dominance of a Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant, he has an underrated reliability and elusiveness that make him a game changer.
While another coach in the NFC West has raved about having the “best catcher ever,” the best hands in the NFL today actually belong to Tate. After dropping just three passes this season, he’s caught 144 of the 149 catchable balls thrown his way since 2011. His 3.9% Drop Rate in that span is the lowest of any wide receiver in the NFL with 100 targets. Tate makes up for his lack of height with an incredible ability to pinpoint the ball in the air, and Russell Wilson is never afraid to give him a chance for a contested catch. Tate’s 189 yards on scramble plays in the last two seasons is the third-most in the NFL, a testament to his rapport with his quarterback.
When we named Tate the Seahawks’ Secret Superstar last offseason, we also noted his incredible elusiveness after the catch. He continued that trend in 2013, leading all receivers with 21 forced missed tackles on his receptions. Teammate Percy Harvin is one of the most dangerous players in the league with the ball in his hands, averaging a missed tackle for every 4.7 receptions in the last three seasons. Who is the only player with a better rate on 100 receptions? That would be Tate, who amazingly averages a missed tackle for every 2.8 catches.
That shiftiness also serves Tate well as a punt returner, where he led the league with a +11.9 grade this season. He didn’t have the highest average return and didn’t bring back a kick for a touchdown, but if you re-watch his jaw-dropping moves with 1:19 left in the third quarter against the Buccaneers in Week 9, there’s no doubt that he’s a huge asset on special teams. Losing Tate would hurt Seattle in two phases of the game. His contributions may be a bit more subtle than Bennett’s, but that also makes him much more affordable to keep around. With a lot of big negotiations on the horizon, Tate is the rare Super Bowl winner who can be kept at a value.
The Case Against Tate
By Gordon McGuinness
The case against Tate has little to do with the shifty receiver’s playmaking ability, and more to do with what the Seahawks have on the roster already. Tate has been fantastic since he arrived in Seattle, shaking free from defenders for extra yardage like the best receiver in the league. As Pete already pointed out, though, they also have Percy Harvin who can do damage in that regard, and he adds explosiveness that not even Tate can match. They also have emerging receivers in Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, both of whom showed their worth in the playoffs and it’s hard to see a Seattle offense, lead by Wilson and built off the back of Marshawn Lynch, struggling much with those three as its top wide receivers.
Losing Bennett, however, would cost Seattle their best all-around pass rusher, and someone who’s capable of doing damage on the inside and outside of the defensive line. He’s ranked inside our Top 7 4-3 defensive ends three years in a row since becoming a full-time starter in 2011 and, at only 28 and without too much tread on him, there’s no reason to think he doesn’t have another few great years in him yet.
If the Seahawks aren’t able to bring him back, which would go against the reports we’ve heard so far, they not only need to replace an edge rusher, but also an interior rusher for their sub-packages, too. The defensive line was one of the key reasons why they won a Super Bowl this year, and it simply makes the most sense to bring back a player who has verged on dominant for a few years now, and is capable to making life miserable for offensive lineman throughout the league.
If you were the Seahawks general manager and could keep only one, would you opt for Bennett or Tate? Make your case in the comments section.