FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Over the last several weeks, it’s become apparent that Michael Bennett has been unhappy with his role on the Patriots’ defense. Apparently, that came to a breaking point last Friday.
According to the NFL Network, the Patriots have suspended Bennett for one week for conduct detrimental to the team. According to The Athletic, the veteran defensive end let the Patriots coaching staff know he was unhappy with his role.
The blowup came 24 hours after Bennett played just 11 snaps against the New York Giants. After the news broke on Tuesday, the 33-year-old apologized via ESPN.
“On Friday, I had a philosophical disagreement with my position coach that has led to my suspension,” Bennett told ESPN. “I apologize to my teammates for any distraction this may have caused.”
Bennett wasn’t at practice on Tuesday.
The 11-year veteran has long been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, with 17.5 sacks over the past two years. This year, he has 2.5 sacks in six games with just one start. He’s played just 35.7% of the defensive snaps — fewer than defensive linemen Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. On Thursday against New York, Bennett’s 11 snaps were also fewer than defensive ends Deatrich Wise and Chase Winovich, as well as edge rusher Shilique Calhoun.
With the Patriots playing more 3-4 defense, they’re using their linebackers a lot more this season. As a result, Bennett has also played less than Ja’Whaun Bentley, John Simon, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
Asked about Bennett before the Giants game, head coach Bill Belichick said he’s worked hard, but he concedes that Bennett is being asked to do things differently with the Patriots than he has in the past.
“Michael’s a smart player, he’s got a lot of experience,” Belichick said. “He’s been in different systems, so he’s trying to adapt into our system, but we’ve also talked to him about some of the things that he’s done, and he obviously has a lot of experience and a lot of input. Not just as an individual player, but also schematically. So, he’s been good. He’s really tried hard and worked hard to embrace what we’ve asked him to do, which, again, is quite different than what he’s done in Seattle and Philly, even in Tampa. So, yeah, he’s been fun.”
Last week, Tom Brady said he enjoyed having Bennett as a teammate after playing with his brother, Martellus Bennett.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time with Michael,” Brady said. “It’s a little different because he’s on the defensive side of the ball. ... Love the football player that he is, the level of talent he brings. He’s been on some great defenses. He’s a big, powerful guy. I’ve played against him. I mean, he knocked the crap out of me in the 2014 Super Bowl, so I know what kind of player he is, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Bennett’s playing time has gone down as the season has gone on. In Week 1, he played 55.2% of the Patriots’ defense snaps, his season high. His snap percentages have dropped in each game since then — 40.3%, 30%, 30.4%, 25% and 22%.
His 11 snaps last week are the lowest dating back to the 2012 season. Asked about his declining playing time after the Patriots’ win over the Giants, Bennett told the Boston Sports Journal he didn’t have any answers.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” Bennett said. “You have to ask Bill. I wish I knew. If I had a better answer, I would tell you. You’ve got to ask them, man. I’m just trying to do what they ask me to do.”
After trading for Bennett this offseason, the Patriots restructured his two-year contract, giving him $16.75 million with a $4 million signing bonus. It’s clear that both Bennett and the Patriots had different ideas about this relationship.