Clayton: Benson May Be the Most Important Free Agent to be Re-Signed in All of Football

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 21: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on November 21 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Most believe that the first two things the Cincinnati Bengals need to do once the lockout is lifted is re-sign cornerback Johnathan Joseph and running back Cedric Benson, and most believe it needs to happen in that order. Who can really argue with that? Now that Adam Jones' future is up in the air due to his most recent arrest, the Bengals need Joseph back even more than before. If they sign Joseph back, they can then work to re-sign Leon Hall after the 2011 season and they can secure the future of the Bengals' secondary for the next few years. 

Is there anybody out there that believes it's more important to re-sign Benson? ESPN senior writer John Clayton does. He went as far to say that Benson "might be the most important player to re-sign in all of football, not just at running back."

Here's why.

Benson is one of the six or seven backs in the league who can consistently average 20 carries a game. The Bengals can't expect to go to a passing type of offense. The receivers are too young. Dalton has too little experience.

When it comes to teams that have talented running backs going to free agency once the lockout comes to an end, the Bengals are one of the only teams that should be desperate to re-sign theirs. Clayton points out that the Carolina Panthers still have a chance to compete without DeAngelo Williams, because they still have Jonathan Stewart. The Giants have Brandon Jacobs if Ahmad Bradshaw signs with another team. The Dolphins may not re-sign Ronnie Brown, allowing recently drafted Daniel Thomas to show what he can do. 

That's how most of the teams with a running back who is waiting to go to free agency are -- they have somebody else they can use. The Bengals have Bernard Scott, but he's not the kind of running back that can carry the ball 20 times a game, especially not in the AFC North where he goes up against the Steelers' and Ravens' defenses twice a year. Scott needs the ball in his hands more often, yes, but not to pound the ball up the middle like Benson does. The Bengals tried that in 2008 with Chris Perry and the results were disastrous, and Perry outweighed Scott by 20 pounds.

There's also the fact that Benson is comfortable in Cincinnati and the Bengals are comfortable with Benson.

But the Bengals would be nothing without Benson. To his credit, he's loved it in Cincinnati. After a bad experience in Chicago, Benson found a home with the Bengals. Players respect him. He's become a valuable running back for Lewis, and this season the offense will get back to the style that suits him best.

With a new quarterback and an extremely young group of receivers, especially if Chad Ochocinco isn't on the team anymore, the Bengals need to rely on something familiar this season. Benson is that something familiar and, like in 2009, he can hoist the offense on his back and allow them to have some success in 2011.

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