If the Bengals have any chance of being competitive next year, it's going to be with a rebuilt running game and a strong defense. We have to assume that the flashy pieces that have been added to the new Bengals puzzle such as A.J. Green and Andy Dalton are going to need at least a year before the team can begin to rely on them. And frankly, smash-mouth football is a style that fits Marvin Lewis and the Bengals much better than the finesse game.
Cedric Benson obviously fits the mold of a RB built for the AFC North. He runs like a bulldozer with his north and south style, powering through defenders while relying on strength and blocks rather than finesse and speed. He's not the type of back that is going to break open a 50 yard TD run every game, but he is the type of back that has the ability to grind out yards and wear down an opposing defense.
This offseason, we've made the claim that the number one priority for the offense should be to resign Benson, and by-in-large, we've been working on the assumption that Benson is going to be a Bengal next year. However, he is a free agent, meaning that there is an outside possibility that he won't be in stripes come opening day.
And if that's the case, the Bengals will need to become buyers in the free agent RB market.The top names that will be available once the lockout is lifted (if the lockout lifted), are Ahmad Bradshaw, Ronnie Brown, Pierre Thomas and DeAngelo Williams. It's not expected that the Bengals will go after any of these players, but if for some reason they fail to resign Benson, looking into signing one of these guys will become a top priority for the team.
And maybe going in a different direction wouldn't be such a bad thing either.
Though Benson came to personify the Bengals' new pound-the-ball mentality and has been credited for leading the team to their playoff run in 2009, it's not like he's an irreplaceable talent. Benson only managed a meager 3.5 yards per carry last season, fumbled the ball 7 times (losing 5 of them), and only had two runs of 20+ yards. To put that in perspective, Benson tied for 49th in the league in runs of 20+ yards, despite being the top five in terms of total carries.
I wouldn't argue that the entire blame can be laid on the shoulders of Benson. The offensive line certainly didn't help matters much, and neither did the terribly predictable playcalling of our former offensive coordinator Bob Bratowski. However, as they say "Players make plays" and last year, Benson simply didn't make many of them.
Do I expect Cedric Benson to be back next year? Absolutely. Do I want him back? Sure. He's a team leader who personifies the mentality that Marvin Lewis has established for this squad and has carried the team to the playoffs before. With a reshuffled and hopefully healthy offensive line (knock on wood) and a new power running scheme in place, Benson should have the opportunity to thrive again.
But that doesn't mean he should be our only option next year either and if another RB came along for the right price, maybe the Bengals should look into it.