Cedric Benson has been the Bengals' bell-cow back since midway through the 2008 season when the Bengals brought him in as a free agent to replace the completely ineffective Chris Perry. Since the end of the '08 season, Benson has been the man. Throughout the 2009 season he led the Bengals offense to the their second AFC North title in five years and had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in his career.
In 2010, even though the Bengals went 4-12, Benson had another 1,000-yard rushing season and was largely the only way the Bengals were able to move the ball down the field.
Coming into the 2011 season, Benson was considered one of the most important free agents for the Bengals to re-sing after cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Following Carson Palmer's retirement, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in the second round of the draft and Benson was going to be needed to provide a running game to help take pressure off of the shoulders of a rookie quarterback.
Well Benson was re-signed and he has been the bell-cow back through the Bengals' first three games of the 2011 season. And before we are even a quarter of the way through Benson's fourth season as the Bengals running back, I'm saying that in 2012 the Bengals need to look elsewhere for a running back.
I would suspect that the majority of you agree with me, especially considering that his yards per carry averaged dropped from 4.2 in '09 to 3.5 in '10 and that Benson and the running game have yet to really get things going in 2011.
His yards per carry average is back at 4.2 after the first three games of the 2011 season and he's in the top-10 NFL running backs in total yards so far this season. That's all good news and you would think that if he keeps this up for the entire season and gets back to 2009 form, I would change my tune. I won't. I don't want to see Benson on the team after the final game of this season and the main reason is because of this recent pending suspension.
Texas spells trouble for Benson. Every time he goes there he beats somebody up. Even if he's sucker punched or if he's defending himself from somebody that will not leave his house, he seems to find himself in trouble. I don't agree with the league's decision to single out and punish eight players who got in trouble in the offseason during the lockout. I don't think that's fair at all.
However, the NFL and the lockout can't be blamed for Benson putting himself in a situation where he could get in trouble again. That is nobody's fault other than his own. And now he has put the Bengals in a situation where they may have to sign Larry Johnson, who hasn't carried the ball more than 50 times since the first half of the 2009 season.
Benson knew this offseason that if he was to re-sign with the Bengals that he would be a huge part of their offense and he still put himself in a situation where he could find himself in trouble. Furthermore, I'm sure he's smart enough to know that an assault charge is enough to turn many teams looking for a running back away. Even if the Bengals didn't re-sign him, his situation could have kept him jobless in the upcoming season. The idea that you would need to impress a team enough to sign you as a running back heading into your seventh season, coming off a year in which you averaged 3.5 yards per carry, would be enough to make most walk on eggshells all offseason. It wasn't enough for Benson, though.
Next year Andy Dalton won't be a rookie anymore and with a season's worth of experience under his belt, coaches should be able to rely on him much more to move the ball down the field himself. Still, in Jay Gruden's west coast system, the Bengals are going to need a running back that can carry the ball up to 20 times per game. That guy needs to be somebody other than Benson. Whether the Bengals draft a running back early in the 2012 draft or pick one up in free agency, they need to move away from Benson and toward a future without baggage.