The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have acquired seventh-year veteran tailback Michael Bennett from the Kansas City Chiefs.The Chiefs received undisclosed draft picks in 2008 and 2009
based on performance criteria.
"We believe that the addition of Michael Bennett will
strengthen our running back position," Bucs general manager Bruce
Allen said in a statement.
Although Bennett does not fit the model of the kind of running back that the club had been attempting to add in trade talks over the past week, the swap provides the Bucs a veteran back who was a starter in the league early in his career, and who was named to the 2002 Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,296 yards that season.
"It really caught me off-guard," Bennett told the Kansas City Star. "I heard the speculation for the past few days, but nobody from the Chiefs said anything to me, so I guessed it wasn't going to happen. I was wrong. It's a business. It's just one of those things that happen.
The departure of Bennett from the Chiefs could mean that Kansas City tailback Priest Holmes, who hasn't played in two years because of a neck condition, is ready to return to the practice field. Holmes is on the non-football injury list, and players on that reserve list are eligible to start practicing again on Tuesday, by league rule.
Kansas City coach Herm Edwards told local reporters Monday that Holmes would rejoin the team when it practiced on Wednesday in preparation for this week's game. Many felt that Holmes would retire in the offseason, but he surprised even Chiefs officials by reporting to training camp this summer.
"He's been here," Edwards said of Holmes. "I've been talking to him, about every other day or so. We talk about where he's at, how he's doing, what we're thinking. He knows what I expect and I know where he's at right now."
If Holmes does resume practice this week, the Chiefs, by NFL rule, would have a three-week window in which to evaluate him.
Tampa Bay has been beset by injuries in its backfield. The team lost veteran fullback Mike Alstott in the preseason and starting tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams suffered a torn patella tendon three weeks ago that ended his 2007 season. Most recently, Michael Pittman, who replaced Williams as the starter, sustained an ankle injury that could sideline him for two months, according to club officials.
Veteran free agent Zack Crockett was signed last week by the Bucs, but he is more of a short-yardage specialist. Tampa Bay, which is tied for the lead in the NFC South, used fourth-year veteran Earnest Graham as the starter last week, but he rushed for only 29 yards in the team's victory over the Tennessee Titans.
With the resurgent Bucs sensing a chance to steal the division, particularly given the struggles of the defending NFC South champion New Orleans Saints, many in the league felt that Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen would try hard to add a veteran tailback before the Tuesday 4 p.m. trade deadline. Allen was rebuffed in his attempts to acquire fourth-year veteran Mewelde Moore from the Minnesota Vikings, but was active in discussions on several fronts the past few days.
A Bucs officials said late Monday afternoon that the team was definitely pursuing a back and hoped to make a deal. Asked specifically about Bennett, who was being shopped by the Chiefs, the official noted that the club was looking for more of a physical runner. A former Olympic sprint candidate, Bennett is more noted for his speed than his power. But the Bucs almost had to make a move given their situation, and Bennett was the best option.
Bennett was the first-round pick of the Vikings in the 2001 draft. The former Wisconsin standout played his first five seasons in Minnesota (2001-2005), then signed with New Orleans to be the backup to Deuce McAllister in 2006. But the Saints then selected Reggie Bush in the 2006 draft, making Bennett expendable, and he was dealt to Kansas City last summer to fill the Chiefs' need for a backup to Larry Johnson.
He played sparingly in 2006, as Johnson established a league record with 416 carries. This season, Bennett carried 20 times for 52 yards and no touchdowns and had 10 receptions for 47 yards and no scores.
For his career, Bennett has 769 rushes for 3,426 yards and 12 touchdowns and 145 catches for 1,164 yards and five touchdowns. Since rushing for 1,296 yards in 2002, he has never gained more than 500 yards on the ground. Bennett has appeared in 81 games. He is in the final year of his contract, with a base salary of $1.2 million, and Tampa Bay will now be responsible for the prorated portion of that.
To make room for Bennett, the Bucs released running back Lionel Gates. Rookie Kenneth Darby, released last Saturday when Gates was
signed to the active roster, was re-signed to the practice squad.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL reporter for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.