Productive One Year is all Michael Bennett Needed

John McMullen

Maybe we have another reason why Andre Dillard didn’t turn out to be the second coming of Walter Jones from the jump. … his uniform number of 77.

The No. 77 does not exactly have a long and storied history with the Eagles organization, which has been around since 1933 so the numerology here comes from no small sample size.

The best we could come up with was the eclectic Michael Bennett, who had one very solid season with the Eagles in 2018, coupled with Artis Hicks, an undrafted free agent who developed into a starter at left guard in 2004 and 2005 before Brad Childress went to Minnesota and traded for the versatile offensive lineman.

From now until the Eagles begin the season at Washington on Sept. 13, SI.com EagleMaven will do a jersey countdown, listing the current Eagles player to wear the corresponding number to the days left before the season opener. As a bonus, we will list the top three players in team history to have that number.

Here’s what we came up with for No. 77:

Current number 77:

Andre Dillard. A natural pass protector, Dillard struggled with the bullrushes of really accomplished edge players like Everson Griffen and Robert Quinn when forced into action at left tackle due to a Jason Peters knee injury as a rookie.

The bigger issue for the coaching staff came when Lane Johnson went down with a sprained MCL on the other side and Dillard was asked to move to RT against Seattle. During the week of preparation leading up to the game, Dillard noted how difficult the transition was and compared it to writing with a different hand.

Come game day things were a mess with a Brandon Brooks anxiety attack further muddying the waters. Veteran swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai was inserted at RG to replace Brooks and the Eagles had to pull the plug on Dillard at halftime, sliding Vaitai out to RT and inserting Matt Pryor at RG.

The staff’s issues weren’t that Dillard struggled. Some of that was expected but there was a disappointment from some that the 2019 first-round pick didn’t fight harder to get through the adversity and that’s where some of the whispers about Dillard this offseason emanate from.

The plan, though, remains for Dillard to take over for Peters at his natural LT position and he showed incremental improvement there. He does need to get stronger and Brooks mentioned that Dillard is working hard and had reworked his body and added muscle during the virtual offseason.

If Dillard doesn’t end up as the top No. 77 by the end of his rookie contract something has gone drastically wrong.

Top 3 to wear number 77:

3. Ernie Calloway. Calloway started parts of four seasons with the Eagles from 1969 through 1972 and was a versatile player who moved inside and out from defensive tackle to left defensive end. In the end, Calloway started 38 of the 47 games he played with Philadelphia.

2. Artis Hicks. Originally an undrafted free agent out of Memphis in 2002, Hicks ended up starting 31 of his 38 games in Philadelphia and was the starter at LG in Super Bowl XXXIX. He finished his career as a part-time starter in Minnesota for three seasons before cups of coffee with Washington, Cleveland, and Miami.

1. Michael Bennett. A three-time Pro Bowl selection in Seattle, Bennett arrived in Philadelphia as a 32-year-old accomplished veteran in the midst of the organization’s “new normal” mindset coming off a Super Bowl LII win.

Acquired along with a seventh-round pick from the Seahawks for receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round selection, from a production standpoint maybe Bennett wasn’t a home run but he was certainly an extra-base hit in the gap.

Off the field, however, he was hardly a great fit for the Eagles and Bennett seemed to know his stay would be a short one, failing to unpack a giant suitcase he left in the middle of the locker room for the entire 2018 season.

Bennett didn’t like rotational systems and wanted to be on the field more and he was unhappy early. Ultimately, injuries elsewhere actually took care of that for him. When it was all said and done Bennett played all 16 regular-season games during his lone season in Philadelphia, starting 10 of them and compiling nine sacks and two forced fumbles. In the two playoff games, he added another sack, three tackles for loss and three QB hits.

Despite that tangible success, Jim Schwartz wasn't about to guarantee playing time again and the Eagles dealt Bennett and a seventh-round pick to New England for a fifth-round pick before the 2019 season. 

By October 15 of last season, the Pats suspended Bennett for conduct detrimental to the team. Bennett himself described it as “philosophical differences” with his position coach (he again didn’t like his playing time being scaled back for what he felt were lesser players) and apologized but the damage was done and New England traded him to Dallas for a 2021 conditional seventh-round pick (which became a sixth-rounder).

An extremely gifted player who can play inside and outside on the defensive line Bennett has now bounced around to four teams over his last three seasons in the league as a quirky personality who marches to the beat of his own drummer.

What Bennett was in his lone season with the Eagles, however, was effective and many who have worn the number for the franchise did it for longer periods but were also far more pedestrian.

Runner-up:

Keith Millard. Millard was one of the most talented and productive pass-rushing defensive tackles in history before a significant knee injury bumped him off what was a Hall of Fame trajectory with the Minnesota Vikings.

Originally a first-round pick of the Vikings, Millard took a better offer from the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL before returning and turning into an absolute terror on the interior. Millard was a four-time All-Pro from 1986 to 1989 and is a member of the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team. He topped out as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 when he had 18.0 sacks, a record for an interior player that stood until 2018 when Aaron Donald finally bested it.

The next season Millard suffered the injury and was never the same player again although he played through the 1993 campaign, which was in Philadelphia. With the Eagles, Millard played 14 games and had four sacks.

Others:

Phil Ragazzo, Bernie Kaplan, Tex Williams, Carl Fagioli, John Eibner, Jim Kekeris, Gus Cifelli, Jim Weatherall, Don Oates, John Kapele, Ray Mansfield, Ray Rissmiller, Gerry Philbin, Jerry Patton, Don Ratliff, Rufus Mayes, Tom Jelesky, Michael Black, Donald Evans, Antone Davis, Howard Smothers, Richard Cooper, Lonnie Palelei, LaJuan Ramsey, Mike McGlynn, Demetress Bell, Damion Square, Kevin Graf, Barrett Jones, and Taylor Hart.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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