FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive end Michael Bennett's time with the New England Patriots has reached a crossroads, and the NFL's trade deadline is Oct. 29. So what type of value does Bennett, who is serving a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, have across the league?
This is a notable question at a time on the calendar when coach Bill Belichick has often turned into Trader Bill, an aggressive general manager acquiring players to strengthen the roster for the second half of the season and playoffs.
Bennett is arguably Belichick's best chip, in part because he would also provide about $2 million of relief on an already crunched salary cap to help address other needs (e.g., wide receiver, tight end).
Furthermore, Bennett is a still-solid player whose role has diminished in part because of factors outside of his control. When the Patriots traded for him in March, they weren't counting on linebacker Jamie Collins and nose tackle Danny Shelton -- both signed in May -- to play at such a high level that it would be the catalyst to switch to more of a linebacker-driven 3-4 defense.
Bennett, whose primary background has been as a 4-3 defensive end, is naturally frustrated, as he has essentially been relegated to a situational pass-rusher. The 33-year-old can still help the Patriots, but the question if he still wants to in his current role. And if he doesn't, does Belichick still keep him and risk further disruption?
"He's a productive, veteran player that has been extremely versatile in his career. He is certainly one of these guys who isn't scheme specific. He can play a variety of roles and is an effective interior pass-rusher. Those guys are really hard to find, and they will always have a job because of it," said former Jets and Dolphins personnel executive Mike Tannenbaum, who is now a football analyst at ESPN.
At the same time, those considering Bennett will likely factor in that there is more than just on-field performance at play.
"There was just a recent bump in the road," Tannenbaum said, in reference to the team suspension. "He comes across as a very strong-willed player, which is OK, because there are a lot of strong-willed players in the league. But I would want to be able to talk to him, which in the context of a trade you're allowed to do, and find out what happened. If I feel like I'm a team, like we just saw with the Rams -- on the precipice of being in the playoff hunt -- and I needed a veteran interior pass-rusher, I would try to make a trade where I was protected. I would make it a conditional pick based on how much he played and produced. If I could protect my downside, I would definitely pursue it."
With Bennett, Belichick finds himself on the other side of a situation he's capitalized on in the past. Belichick has long identified players who were no longer scheme fits with their teams as those who could contribute more in New England's system, with linebackers Kyle Van Noy (Lions, 2016) and Akeem Ayers (Titans, 2014) two of the more recent trade acquisitions to fall decisively into that category.
As for the level of trade discussions this season, Belichick downplayed the idea that the phone lines are buzzing.
"When something comes up that's important that we need to talk about, we talk about it," he said, referencing director of player personnel Nick Caserio as a key voice in those discussions. "It's not like we meet every five minutes and say, 'What happened in the last five minutes?' That's just not the way it works."
But Belichick has noted in the past how the Patriots often hear from many teams around this time.
"I think they know that we are willing to trade," he said last October. "If they have a player they want to trade, in all honesty, we usually get a call."
That once again figures to be the case with the deadline less than two weeks way, but the Patriots don't find themselves in the most advantageous position to strike should the right opportunity present itself. They are among the teams tightest to the salary cap, with about $2.5 million in space.
This is where the signing of veteran receiver Antonio Brown continues to hurt them, as Brown accounts for $5 million on the cap even though he no longer plays for New England. So if the Patriots (6-0) make a trade, it will likely require some financial maneuvering.
More often than not, the Patriots have financial flexibility at the trade deadline, which is usually crucial because, as Belichick pointed out, that is sometimes a reason a player is available in the first place.
"Salary is definitely a factor in what the trade value of a player is," he said earlier this year.
One of the more notable examples of this came at the 2013 deadline, when the Patriots, in need of a big-bodied defensive tackle, shipped a fifth-round draft choice to the Eagles in exchange for Isaac Sopoaga. The Eagles were willing to part with Sopoaga, in part, because he had a $1 million guarantee as part of his contract and was falling out of favor.
The trade didn't work out for the Patriots, but their willingness (and flexibility) to take on the salary was the key to giving it a chance in the first place.
With Bennett, and a tight cap, they find themselves in a different type of situation now.