Former first-round tailback and unrestricted free agent Michael Bennett, whose promising career has been derailed by a series of injuries, has reached a contract agreement with the New Orleans Saints, where he will serve as the primary backup to Deuce McAllister.
Bennett played all five previous seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, who chose him in the first round of the 2001 draft. He will sign a two-year contract worth $3 million, and the deal includes a signing bonus of $1 million. Bennett can earn an additional $1 million in incentives in each year of the contract.
The former University of Wisconsin star was the draft's 27th overall selection in 2001, four spots after the Saints chose McAllister.
New Orleans officials have tried for the last several seasons to come up with a viable and experienced backup to McAllister, and have gone through a series of older, retread backs in that pursuit. In Bennett, the Saints have landed a back with big-play potential, a player with tremendous long speed, one who could be a terrific complement to McAllister, if he is healthy.
Since McAllister is coming off rehabilitation for a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and injury that limited him to just five appearances in 2005, it was imperative that the Saints land a solid backup. New Orleans still has the versatile Aaron Stecker on hand, also a very good backup. But Bennett, when he is right, can add a different dimension to any lineup, because of his Olympic-class speed.
It could be situation that benefits Bennett, who can allow the bludgeoning McAllister to beat on defenses for a while, and soften them up for him. Much depends, of course, on Bennett's ability to stay healthy. In his five-year career, he has missed 16 games to injury, but played in all 16 contests in 2005, for the first time since his 2002 Pro Bowl season.
Bennett, 27, rushed for 1,296 yards and five touchdowns in '02, and became the first player in NFL history to produce runs of 60-plus yards in three straight games that year. Over the ensuing three seasons, however, Bennett totaled only 1,196 yards and five touchdowns. In 16 appearances in 2005, including six starts, he carried 126 times for 473 yards and three touchdowns.
For his career, Bennett has 713 carries for 3,174 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also has 126 receptions for 1,040 yards and five scores. Bennett has appeared in 64 games and started 49 of them.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.