Saints dangling veteran back Bennett

Updated: May 11, 2006, 12:21 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Less than two months after signing with the New Orleans Saints as the presumptive caddy to Deuce McAllister, veteran tailback Michael Bennett could find his career on a different course for 2006.

 Michael Bennett
Bennett

Saints officials have spoken to representatives from at least two other teams, ESPN.com has confirmed, about trading Bennett, who was bumped down a notch on the depth chart when New Orleans chose Reggie Bush with the second overall pick in last month's draft. The most in-depth discussions have been with the Houston Texans, and there has also been dialogue with the Miami Dolphins in recent days.

A former first-round draft choice, and a onetime Pro Bowl performer, Bennett was signed by the Saints as an unrestricted free agent on March 17, at a time when New Orleans was seeking an established tailback and had no idea Bush would be available at the No. 2 slot in the draft. If the addition of Bush hasn't quite rendered Bennett extraneous, keeping him would clearly be a luxury, and the two-year, $3 million contract that he signed with the Saints is fairly pricey for a No. 3 tailback.

McAllister is rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that limited him to just five games last season and, earlier in the spring, the Saints felt it necessary to acquire an insurance policy. But the addition of Bush, along with the presence of veteran backup tailbacks Aaron Stecker and Fred McAfee on the roster, have resulted in an overstocked depth chart.

It figures to be difficult now for the Saints to find the kind of playing time for Bennett that they envisioned when they signed him to a deal that included $1 million in upfront money.

That might not be the case elsewhere.

Houston earlier his week signed Antowain Smith to bolster the depth chart behind starter Domanick Davis, but the nine-year veteran is 34 years old and the Texans may still be seeking to upgrade at tailback. The season-long suspension of Ricky Williams has left Miami with a hole at the No. 2 tailback spot behind Ronnie Brown, the second-year starter. The Texans are believed to have offered a player in exchange for Bennett, and were rebuffed, but talks are expected to continue. Negotiations with the Texans are much further along than the discussions with the Dolphins.

Bennett recently said that he was not embittered by the acquisition of Bush, which dramatically changed his role, and that he would continue to work hard for the Saints' new coaching staff. He was effusive in his praise of Bush, acknowledged that the Saints could not bypass such a talent, and termed him "electrifying."

"I could see [being disillusioned] if I was out on the street, but I have a job, and I'm going to make the best of whatever opportunity comes available," Bennett said. That opportunity will be enhanced, however, if Bennett moves to another team.

There would certainly be some irony if Bennett were dealt to the Texans, who passed on Bush with the first overall pick in the draft, and selected defensive end Mario Williams instead.

Before signing with the Saints, Bennett, 27, played all five previous seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, who chose him in the first round of the 2001 draft. The former University of Wisconsin star was the draft's 27th overall selection that year, four spots after the Saints chose McAllister.

The speedy Bennett 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. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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