This article began as the second installment of my ‘How Good Is He And What Do We Do With Him’ series. It quickly developed into a very long article, so I cut it in half. This is part one, where I’ll look at 1) what Cedric Benson brings to the Bengals, and 2) how likely he is to rejoin the team.
- Re-sign Benson
- Sign a free agent Running Back
- Re-sign Brian Leonard; use a platoon scheme of current players
Fans are very divided over whether or not to keep Cedric Benson, and I’ve gone through a roller coaster of emotions too. First, let’s get on the same page with what Ced brings to the team.
How Good is Cedric Benson?
Skill-set Summary: If the Bengals bring Benson back, it would be for his workhorse nature and veteran presence. He is a reliable Running Back who can pound the football in the smash-mouth AFC North, which sports two of the best run-defenses in the league. He has been injured in the past, but he is generally injury-free. He is known for being a very patient runner- slow to hit the hole, but fast to explode through it. As a result, if the run blocking of the Offensive Line is inconsistent, Benson gets stuffed. He has a fantastic field of vision, and generally does a good job of finding the right hole. He’s a top heavy player, so he often get tripped up at the line of scrimmage and usually falls forward for a 5 or 6 yard gain. He didn’t break off many big runs in 2010 [longest run was 26 yards], and is not known for breaking a lot of tackles [bottom 10 in PFF's elusive rating from 2008-2010]. His agility and trademark lateral hop-step/side-step can surprise defenders at times, and helps him get out of trouble in the backfield. He’s not bad at making people miss in the open field. He’s not a fantastic pass-blocker, but he gets the job done. He’s isn’t asked to catch many passes out of the backfield, though it’s clear he isn’t a stellar pass-catching back. At his best, he has the power to truck over linebackers and the speed to turn the corner and break away the big run.
Big Picture: Benson’s greatest strength is his capacity to carry the ball many, many times. He’s a workhorse, and your classic bellcow ball-carrier. He’s not in the ranks of the elite backs, but Benson has touched the ball as much as anybody. He is in the top 3 in total carries in the last two years, only behind perennial superstars and famed workhorses Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson. Even while on a squad who was losing in most of its games, he placed 5th in touches in 2010. The catch to Benson is his glaring, almost embarrassing, average yards per carry. In 2010, he posted 3.5 yds/carry, leading the Bengals to a league worst 3.5 yds/carry. Obviously, not all of the weight of that statistic falls on Benson alone. You can also point fingers at the inconsistent run-blocking of the offensive line, the lack of a fullback for almost a whole year, and the play-calling of former Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Additionally, Benson didn’t benefit from easy run defenses. PFF’s study or “normalizing” the Running Backs of 2010 by factoring in strength of schedule gave Benson an average yds/carry of 3.6, and also two more touchdowns. But, at the same time, you can point a bigger finger at Benson himself. He was very inconsistent in 2010, only topping 3.7 yds/carry in 3 of his 16 starts in 2010 (the league average is 4.3). He struggled to break off a big run, and was stuffed all too often. Benson also struggled in power running situations (those short 3rd and 4th down plays that you need to get the first down). In addition, the 2010 Benson also coughed the ball up the second-most times in the league 2010; 7 of his 14 career fumbles came last season.
2010 Benson was inconsistent and bad. On the other hand, 2009 Benson was great. Less fumbles, more yards per carry, more big runs. Maybe he returns to the not-so-bad average of 4.2 yds/carry from his breakout season in 2009. But, maybe not. He is an aging Running Back at 28 (he turns 30 next December). It may not seem like old, but Running Backs are known for their notoriously short careers. Yesterday’s main article on the ESPN.com NFL homepage was one expert’s warning not to pick up a veteran Running Back in free agency. Signing Benson to a long-term, multiple year contract may spell danger for the Bengals in future years. It just depends on which Benson you get.
What do we do with him?
Option One: re-sign Benson
Before his arrest, everyone expected Benson in a Bengals uniform before his arrest. He wanted to be back, the Bengals wanted him back, he was well-respected in the locker room, and everyone considered him a perfect fit for Cincinnati’s new offense. ESPN’s James Walker, ESPN’s John Clayton, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Joe Reedy, and Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson, and just about every Bengals fan was on board the idea that Benson was supposed to come back in 2011. But now, Benson’s arrest opens up “a whole new can of worms”. Now, people are wondering if Benson is really worth re-signing. Not only are people questioning his ability and age, his character and possible suspension are coming into play as reasons that Benson may not be re-signed.
The suspension issue: Benson may or may not be suspended. And this unknown may be one of the biggest obstacles to re-signing him. When free agency kicks off within a few days (I hope), Goodell may not be ready to make a decision on Benson’s punishment. He may wait for more details on the case to emerge, leaving the Bengals front office stranded with the problem of re-signing Benson when they don’t even know if he will be able to play in the first few games of the season. Benson has been arrested 4 times since he entered the NFL, and I believe it’s unlikely that he ends up with just a fine. I’ve heard a range of punishment of a small fine up to a 4-game suspension. Then again, Goodell may not be able to punish Benson in the first place. The validity of the personal conduct policy’s during the lockout is still being discussed in current labor negotiations. Benson may escape unscathed.
The character concerns: No team likes being labeled a team of convicts. And, the Bengals have struggled to shed this image for many years. The jokes from opposing fans are almost intolerable. And, maybe, just maybe, the Bengals reject Benson on character concerns alone. Re-signing a guy who has been arrested 4 times in 4 years definitely doesn’t help shed the convict image. The Bengals front office probably doesn’t care though- the value of the free agent is much more important to Mike Brown. That’s why you see so many rebound players and former scrap-heap guys on the team. It will be very interesting to see how the Bengals front office decides to handle the Benson situation.
The positives of re-signing Benson: I touched on Benson’s workhorse nature earlier, and that is undeniably his greatest strength. His second strength is that he brings the comfort of the known veteran. The Bengals know what they are getting with Benson- he has been their lead back for the past 2.5 years. Benson is well-liked in the locker room, and he has worked with the O-line and the fullbacks Vakapuna and Pressley extensively. Even in a new offense, that past relationship and knowledge of what Benson can do will really help the Bengals in a shortened off-season. The third positive of re-signing Benson is the value. This point may be most important to a guy like Mike Brown, because Benson’s arrest means you can sign him for DIRT CHEAP. There was a large market out there before for Benson. Now, there may not be. A similar situation happened last year, Benson was arrested just before the season opened, spoiling his chances at a reported 3-year, $16-20 million contract. Instead, he was kept on his current contract, a 2-year, $7 million dollar deal signed in 2009. Benson’s untimely arrest means he will probably be signed to a contract closer to the latter.
Option One likelihood: very likely. I disagree with it, but the Bengals will probably re-sign Benson this year. They have overlooked Benson’s character concerns before, and I doubt the Bengals are changing their stance. Benson may struggle to find suitors elsewhere, so this is a cheap option for Mike Brown, and he knows what he is getting from Benson skill-wise. Benson would be a stable veteran in an offense of young-guns. The biggest impediment is the possible suspension, which means that Benson may not be immediately available to play. If the Bengals are confident in their backups, they will feature a committee of current backups until Benson is ready to play.
Tomorrow, I’ll be covering Option Two, which is to sign a free agent RB. There’s a lot of possible names out there, and I’ll be listing them all!
Additional Opinions: Pre-Arrest
Additional Opinions: Post-Arrest