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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Bennett is the Buc who got away

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Published:   |   Updated: January 30, 2014 at 11:48 AM

TAMPA — If you see Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett's outsized, parental-guidance-suggested sack dance in Sunday's Super Bowl, he'll join the elite ranks of Bucs Who Got Away, if he hasn't already.

There are those pesky quarterbacks: Doug Williams, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer, all of whom won Bowls after leaving Tampa. Williams made American history, Young set touchdown records, Dilfer was back like 12 minutes after he left to win it all.

But if you need a fourth, Bennett will do. That is, if he comes up big Sunday, if his pass rushing becomes any kind of key to Seattle spoiling Peyton Manning's Legacy Tour.

And there's this:

The guy didn't want to leave.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith and Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are probably looking for a pass rusher, and they probably will.

But the Bucs had one, in Bennett.

And they let him leave.

Bennett wanted to stay a Buc. The Bucs had claimed him off waivers in 2009 after he was let go by: Seattle. After nine sacks last season, Bennett thought he'd earned a new contract here. We agreed. Who else was there? Only no one told the Bucs.

He wasn't offered a deal. Mark Dominik, Bucs GM at the time, passed. Yes, there were injury concerns. So, Bennett walked, all the way back to Seattle, signing a one-year deal for ordinary money, at least by NFL standards. No more Bucs.

“It was frustrating, because as a player you go out there and put everything on the line for the organization, and when it's time to get your just due and you don't get it, you feel a certain type of way,” Bennett told Super Bowl reporters Monday.

We all know the rest of the story. It was a stupendous error. I'm not saying Bennett is Simeon Rice, but he certainly was far more of a human life form than Da'Quan Bowers, whom the Bucs pegged as the answer, the replacement, even as we shook our heads. Bowers was a complete stiff. Bennett had more sacks (8.5) than Bowers had tackles.

It seemed as if every time we looked at the NFL playoffs, Bennett was wreaking havoc, bringing the quarterback down, forcing one fumble and recovering another against New Orleans, or nearly scoring on a fumble return against San Francisco in the NFC title game.

While Bennett was having the time of his life, the Bucs went 4-12 in their second and final year under Greg Schiano lockdown. From Seattle, Bennett took some shots at Schiano, about men not being treated like men. But mostly Bennett has been too busy having fun.

Like the time this season he wanted to take his wife and three children to a posh Seattle restaurant. The hostess told him there were no openings. Bennett waited, then called back. He identified himself as Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. The restaurant went nuts, even velvet roped off an area, When do you need it, Mr. Wilson? Bennett and family ate, roped off.

Plus, Bennett's celebratory dancing has escalated to the point of no return, hip swivels and general gyrations. He currently performs at the corner of Dirty and Dancing.

And the Bucs still need an edge rusher.

“In this system, like any system, you need that one guy if you can find him,” Leslie Frazier said.

The Bucs did find him.

Only he left.

Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier will get their pass rusher. Maybe he's already here. Doubtful. Smith brought Julius Peppers to Chicago. Frazier had Jared Allen in Minnesota.

Peppers might be available. Allen might be available.

Oh, and Michael Bennett might be available.

He's a free agent.

Bennett, party of one?

For now, all you can do is watch him out on the dance floor, the biggest one in sports.

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