Michael Bennett and Jeremiah Trotter are used to playoff football.
Bennett made an appearance with the Minnesota Vikings. Trotter made several with the Philadelphia Eagles, one of which led to a Super Bowl appearance.
Both are grateful for the chance to play in January. If both were in their previous situations — Bennett as a backup in Kansas City and Trotter as a linebacker in Philadelphia — both would be done for the season.
But will either be Bucs next year? Both are free agents after the season, and each gives the Bucs some value at their positions. Money won’t be the issue. Both could probably be re-signed without a serious financial commitment.
The bigger issue is whether either of these talented players would want to stay in Tampa Bay.
Neither expressed an interest in talking about the future on Sunday.
“The only thing I’m worried about right now is helping this team win a playoff game next week,” Trotter said.
Trotter, a 10-year veteran, signed with Tampa Bay before the season as insurance in case starter Barrett Ruud was injured or underperformed. Ruud did neither, and Trotter spent most of the season inactive. He played in the final two games of the season and led the Bucs in tackles on Sunday with eight.
But his season total of 13 tackles is a far cry from his career average of more than 100 tackles per season.
He even admitted to a little rust in his first start of the season on Sunday.
“I think I did OK,” Trotter said. “I think I can do a lot better. I just have to learn to be a little more patient. It was my first game playing, really, so I’m still trying to get a feel for the defense and the game speed.”
Head coach Jon Gruden and Trotter’s teammates have praised Trotter’s professionalism all season, calling him a great locker room presence and a mentor to younger players. But if he remained in Tampa Bay he would be a backup to Ruud and a special teams performer. At 30, Trotter showed on Sunday he still has ability and talent to be a starter in the NFL.
The same could be said for Bennett, who has logged his most serious playing time as a Buccaneer the past two weeks. He rushed for 39 yards on 15 carries against the Panthers, plus caught two passes for 28 yards. His 23-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter capped off the longest scoring drive in Bucs history.
“So I’ve been a part of team history twice,” Bennett said.
Tampa Bay traded for the seven-year veteran in October after injuries to RBs Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman. Bennett’s use has been limited by his progress with the offense’s extensive playbook. Only in the past few weeks, Bennett said, has he felt comfortable with the offense.
Bennett didn’t offer any hints on his future after the game.
“I don’t really think about that,” Bennett said. “I’m like a kid when it’s time to play football. It’s like playing in the backyard. It makes it a lot easier and I don’t have to stress myself about next year.”
Bennett rushed for 189 yards for the Buccaneers in the regular season. Sunday was his biggest involvement in a Buccaneers game plan.
The Buccaneers have three running backs under contract, including current starter Earnest Graham. But Bennett offers the Bucs blazing speed, something their other three backs lack. Plus, Williams appears to be likely to miss training camp and part of next season as he rehabs his injured knee. So the Bucs might be more inclined to re-sign Bennett as a third option at running back than to sign Trotter as a backup linebacker.
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Listen to Bucsblitz.com’s Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com’s exclusive team media center for Postins’ archived appearances.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.