RB Michael Bennett has averaged 4.5 yards per carry over seven seasons with Minnesota and Kansas City
In-season trading is uncommon in the National Football League, which makes the trading deadline something of an anticlimactic event every year.
Just don't tell that to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the fourth October in a row, the Buccaneers have made a significant deadline deal. This year, the team has acquired proven veteran running back Michael Bennett from the Kansas City Chiefs; terms of the deal were not disclosed.
To make room for Bennett on the 53-man roster, the team released running back Lionel Gates. In addition, the Bucs also re-signed RB Kenneth Darby to the practice squad.
The trade for Bennett, which became official Tuesday afternoon after he arrived in town and passed a team-administered physical, addresses the Bucs' most pressing depth chart need. Since the back-to-back losses of Cadillac Williams (for the season) and Michael Pittman (for six to eight weeks), the Bucs have had to reconstruct their backfield and have produced less than satisfying results on game day.
"We believe that the addition of Michael Bennett will strengthen our running back position," said General Manager Bruce Allen.
The addition of Bennett, whose chief weapon is blazing speed, restores some balance to the Bucs' rushing attack. Williams was the Bucs' fastest ball-carrying options before their injuries, and Pittman was the team's most accomplished pass-catcher out of the backfield. Bennett is a home-run threat who has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and caught 135 passes in his NFL career.
Though often driven by circumstance, the Bucs have made very effective use of the in-season trading option over the last four years.
In 2006, Tampa Bay dealt defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round draft pick. The Bucs have successfully replaced McFarland in the lineup with Jovan Haye and were able to use that extra pick on promising safety Sabby Piscitelli (both McFarland and Piscitelli are currently on injured reserve).
In 2005, immediately after a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Brian Griese, the Bucs sent a sixth-round draft pick to San Francisco to acquire quarterback Tim Rattay. With Chris Simms handling the promotion to starter nicely during the remainder of the '05 season, Rattay didn't see action until late in 2006. However, he provided quality depth for almost two seasons and even started the final two contests last year. Rattay is now with the Arizona Cardinals.
In 2004, the Bucs managed to get two draft picks – a third and a sixth in 2005 – from San Diego for disgruntled receiver Keenan McCardell, who had held out for the first half of the season. Other non-deadline trades by the Buccaneers in the last five years have netted such players as running back Thomas Jones, wide receiver Joey Galloway, quarterback Luke McCown, tight end Doug Jolley, quarterback Jake Plummer and defensive tackle Ryan Sims.
This marks the second time that Bennett has been traded in the last 14 months. Following his fifth season in Minnesota in 2005, Bennett signed with the New Orleans Saints as an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2006. However, after drafting USC running back Reggie Bush in the first round of the draft a month later, the Saints subsequently dealt Bennett to the Chiefs in August.
Bennett, the former Wisconsin football and track star, first entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick (27th overall) of the Vikings in 2001. He got off to a prolific start in his first two seasons, playing in and starting 29 games and racking up 1,978 rushing yards, 66 receptions and nine total touchdowns. Bennett's career-best campaign came in 2002, when he gained 1,296 yards on 255 carries, averaging 5.1 yards per tote and scoring five touchdowns. Included in that was an 85-yard touchdown run against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
A left foot injury robbed Bennett of the first half of the 2003 campaign, and his next three seasons in Minnesota ended with rushing totals of 447, 276 and 473 yards. Since joining the Chiefs he has seen only sporadic carries as Kansas City has leaned on workhorse back Larry Johnson. He ran just 36 times in 2006, though he did pick up 200 yards, averaging 5.6 yards a clip. This season he has been limited to 20 carries for 52 yards, though he also has 10 receptions.
At Wisconsin, Bennett rushed for 1,979 yards in just 23 games, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring 15 touchdowns. Most of that came during an extremely prolific junior season, his last with the Badgers, in which he gained 1,681 yards in 11 games. Bennett was also a force on Wisconsin's track team, winning the Big Ten's indoor 60-meter and 200-meter and outdoor 100-meter and 200-meter titles in 2000.
Tampa Bay's rushing attack ranks 19th in the NFL with an average of 99.2 yards per game, largely on the strength of 182 and 189-yard performances against St. Louis and Carolina. In the last two games, the Bucs have posted 17 rushing yards against Indianapolis and 30 against Tennessee, though matchups and game situations have played a significant role in those numbers.
Bennett joins current starter Earnest Graham as the two traditional tailbacks on the depth chart. The Bucs also have a pair of fullbacks, B.J. Askew and Zack Crockett, who are capable of carrying the football.
Gates, who spent most of the 2006 season on the Bucs' practice squad, returned to the team a week ago. He was first signed to the practice squad, then promoted to the active roster last Saturday. He played in the Bucs' 13-10 win over Tennessee on Sunday but did not take any handoffs.
Darby, a seventh-round draft pick by the Bucs this past April, has been on the practice squad for the majority of the season. He was signed to the active roster after the loss of Williams, but then released last Saturday to make room for Gates. Darby was the Bucs' leading rusher during the preseason with 135 yards.