How Bucs let Michael Bennett get away

TAMPA, Fla. -- Seeing Michael Bennett's celebratory bicycle ride after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game had to be difficult for Tampa Bay fans.

The defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks used to play for the Bucs, and there are many fans who think he still should be with the team. They're right.

Let's revisit how Bennett got away. Back in 2012, Bennett had a career-high nine sacks for the Bucs. he was a free agent heading into 2013, and he made it known that he wanted to stay with Tampa Bay. The common assumption was that he would. Bennett looked like a player on the rise.

But the people who mattered most, former coach Greg Schiano and former general manager Mark Dominik, didn't see it that way. They viewed Bennett as a player who had overachieved and they didn't think he could sustain his 2012 level of play. Bennett also was outspoken and a free spirit, which didn't sit well with Schiano.

The Bucs had a plan and it didn't include Bennett. They had Adrian Clayborn at one defensive end spot and they believed Da'Quan Bowers was ready to claim the other spot. That turned out to be a huge mistake.

Bowers ended up starting two games and produced just one sack in 2013. His failure to develop helped prompt the Bucs to sign Michael Johnson in 2014 -- a deal that's not looking too good after Johnson produced four sacks.

Perhaps all of Tampa Bay's problems at defensive end could have been avoided if the Bucs simply had re-signed Bennett. It wasn't like he got big money. Seattle lured Bennett with a one-year deal worth $4.8 million.

Bennett had 8.5 sacks for the Seahawks in 2013 and seven in 2014. He also got a four-year contract worth $28 million from the Seahawks in 2014.

Meantime, Bowers will be a free agent and isn't expected to re-sign with the Bucs. And the Bucs have to make a decision on whether to keep Johnson, who is scheduled to make $9 million between base salary and a roster bonus in 2015.