Bengals Set Sights on Cedric Benson (Updated)

Now that Shayne Graham has been tagged and T.J. Houshmandzadeh written off, the spotlight has shifted to the third big name on the Cincinnati Bengals’ free agent list, RB Cedric Benson. Benson has said he’s open to returning to Cincinnati and is in fact grateful that they gave him an opportunity to get back into the league. Despite that, no deal has been forthcoming.

No one can blame Benson for wanting to test the market, but as the free agent period approaches, things aren’t all falling his way. While the New York Giants eliminated one competitor by franchising RB Brandon Jacobs, teammate Derrick Ward is still headed for free agency. San Diego remains undecided about tagging Darren Sproles. (see update below) Also joining the free agent scrum are former Jaguar Fred Taylor and ex-Saint Deuce McAllister.

Despite being 33 years old, Peter King believes Taylor will draw strong interest in free agency. McAllister only played in six games last season due to injury, but a few teams will certainly kick his tires. Sproles and Ward are generally seen as the top two free agent RBs now that Jacobs has been tagged.

Opinions as to Benson’s value vary. Doc dismisses him as “not a big-time back.” On the other hand, Muckraker Mike thinks that the team ought to have franchised Benson, not Graham, an argument I’ve made as well.

I really don’t have any feeling how things will shake out. I hope the Bengals can retain Benson, but I can’t get a handle on what interest he’ll draw. Will teams see the guy who played hard for the Bengals last year, or the problem child who got bounced by the Bears? It’s tough to see anyone breaking the bank for him based on a few good games against poor opposition at the end of last season, but stranger things have happened.

Update: As expected, the Chargers have tagged Sproles. That’s bad news for Bengals fans (like me) who were hoping Benson stays, since this will surely increase his stock on the free agent market. Scout.com ranked Benson fifth overall among potential free agent RBs this year, and two backs ahead of him, Jacobs and Sproles, have now been franchised.

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