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Originally published March 10, 2014 at 6:38 PM | Page modified March 11, 2014 at 2:29 PM

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Home is where the heart is for Bennett

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett chose to stay with the Seahawks, agreeing to a deal with Seattle before he became eligible to sign with other teams.


Seattle Times columnist

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Michael Bennett was retained by Seattle a day before he became eligible to sign with another team.

But Bennett dangled on the free-agent market long enough to induce a spirited discussion among Seahawks fans about the nature of loyalty; specifically, how much of it he owed to the organization with which he broke out on a grand scale this past season.

Indeed, there was enough angst over Bennett’s return for him to earn a pre-emptive — and premature — scolding from hard-core 12s who couldn’t believe he had the audacity to even test the market. How dare he burst the reassuring bubble of “all-for-one and one-for-all” that enveloped the Seahawks in the wake of their Super Bowl rout?

In the end, however, everyone was happy. Bennett on Monday got a multiyear deal that will give him financial security; the Seahawks retained a vital member of their elite defense; and fans get to keep rooting for a player of ever-increasing appeal.

What’s more, those who believe that players should cede their personal ambition to the ongoing health of the franchise came away warmhearted over the revelation that Bennett apparently left money on the table. It was a surprising turn from someone who had immediately shot down the notion he would give the Seahawks a discount, commenting that “This is not Costco, this is not Walmart, this is real life.”

In real life, the Seahawks won Bennett’s heart over the Bears, who had his brother, Martellus, recruiting him; over the 49ers, who supposedly were waiting to pounce on one of their rivals’ stars; and over all those unnamed teams ready to bestow wads of cash on him.

“There was more (money), but I wanted to be here, man,’’ Bennett said. “There’s a lot of young guys here, and there’s a lot of winning ways. I just love the organization and the things they are about.”

Bennett didn’t owe the Seahawks blind loyalty — nor does any other free agent. Not in a league in which teams wring every last ounce of production they can get from a player, then have no compunction about casting him aside the moment his performance begins to wane. Just ask Red Bryant or Sidney Rice about that.

As Doug Baldwin pointed out in an astute commentary aired Sunday night on Q13, “With so much uncertainty in the game of football and life in general, is it really that bad that players want to get the most out of their short window of opportunity?”

Of course not, especially considering the abbreviated careers of NFL players, and the battering their bodies inevitably are subjected to — leading to potential health risks that can follow them into retirement.

Bennett himself had a glimpse of the tenuous nature of the sport during a scary incident in Houston. He was placed on a board and carried off on a stretcher after a hit on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub that caused Bennett’s head to snap back; fortunately, what looked to be a potentially serious injury turned out to be minor, and Bennett was back in action the next week.

But it highlighted the reality that careers can be fleeting in the NFL. Bennett had every right to seize what may well be his one chance to cash in, and milk it for all it was worth.

In the end, it wasn’t loyalty that guided Bennett back to Seattle — but a force that should be just as reassuring to Seahawks fans. Namely, the fact that this is such a comfortable and vibrant place to be right now, few want to leave.

It’s a close-knit team with a great locker-room vibe, a hugely popular coach, a devoted fan base, an owner who loads up on the amenities — and, oh yeah, a Super Bowl trophy that might not be lonely for very long.

Bennett cited, among other things, the fans (“I really appreciate how much they put into being one of the biggest reasons why we win games,”) and teammates like Richard Sherman, who “was one of the main reasons I came back. He was on me the whole time and just told me he really wanted me to come back and how much I meant to the defense.”

Bennett added, “I love the staff, from the equipment staff to the medical staff. It just goes on and on. Everybody here, they’re good people, and I really enjoy that.”

Seems to me, Bennett came back because the money was close enough that it wasn’t worth the risk in quality of life to leave a place where he was happy. Which is the most powerful form of loyalty a team can ever build.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry



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