CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 24: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals fumbles the football after being hit by Calais Campbell #93 of the Arizona Cardinals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Cardinals 23-16. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Since coming to the Bengals as a free agent in the 2008 season, Cedric Benson has not rushed for less than 1,000 yards (except for in 2008 when he only played in 12 games but still rushed for 747 yards) and has had over 270 attempts (again, except for 2008). Benson emerged as the Bengals no. 1 back in 2008 and and never looked back. Bob Bratkowski's offense suited a running back like Benson because even though, at the time, the Bengals had Carson, Chad, and TJ, Benson got a lot of carries and took the load on his shoulders in the fourth quarter when the Bengals were ahead and needed to run out the clock. During the 2009 playoff campaign, Benson was a workhorse; he ran for 1250 yards and had over 300 carries.
Coming in to the 2011 season, the Bengals revamped their offense by trading Chad Ochocinco, drafting A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, eventually trading Carson Palmer to the Raiders, and brought in new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. With two rookies as the focal point of the offense, it would be safe to assume that Benson would get the ball more than usual because he was surrounded by inexperienced rookies. As we know now, that was not the case and Benson's statistics (1067 yards and 273 attempts) showed that the focus of the offense would be on the two rookies and the passing attack.
It is understandable that if you are an NFL skill player you want the ball in your hands as much as possible, but when your team is winning, what else matters, right? According to Benson, it does matter...a lot.
On Tuesday night, Benson appeared on Sirius NFL Radio's Late Hits show for an interview and had quite a few interesting sound bites for both the front office and fans.
First, regarding the Bengals offense, Benson said,
We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on. When we had Carson and Chad we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit...
We can't be positive, but Benson knows that his team made the playoffs, right? There are two issues here that are causing Benson to make these comments. First, as noted above, Benson had the idea in his head that since there were two new rookies leading the offense, he would get a larger number of carries. This is not a bad thought to have if you are a veteran running back in a young offense, but when you have significantly slowed down, do not break tackles any longer, have significant character issues, and have a severe fumbling problem (see above photo and game for reference), you are not going to get the ball as much as you think. Second, Benson had a career year in 2009 in rushing yards and attempts, but it is widely known that the only reason the Bengals made the playoffs that year is because of the 1,923 fourth quarter comebacks that Palmer and the passing offense created to win games. To say that the Bengals offense in 2009 was better than the 2011 version is being oblivious to explicit facts and statistics and it shows that Benson was simply frustrated at his lack of touches during the season.
For a running back who has had 12 fumbles in the last two seasons (7 in 2010 and 5 in 2011) and nearly, single-handedly losing a game because of two ridiculous fumbles, Benson is very loose with what comes out of his mouth. It is understandable for Ray Rice to complain about touches, when there were three weeks out of the year where he had 9 or less rushing attempts, because he is one of the elite backs in the NFL and proves it each week when he pass blocks, makes the secondary miss tackles, has over 700 yards receiving, over 1,300 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns, and has two fumbles on the season. Cedric Benson, on the other hand, is not allowed to complain and should be grateful that Jay Gruden decided to give him the ball 273 times because of his extremely poor performances this season. Also, any other running back would say the mechanical, "We need to get better as an offense and I need to get better overall." That running back would not throw anyone under the bus, but would only note how he needs to get better and not fumble the football. That running back is not Cedric Benson, as is demonstrated by the criticism he is vomiting, and his attitude problems need to be removed from the locker room just like Chad and Terrell Owens.
Second, regarding his future as a Bengal,
We haven’t had any talks about a new deal, re-signing or anything like that to my knowledge," Benson told me and co-host Ross Tucker on Sirius XM NFL Radio. "I’m not sure where things are laying up there in Cincinnati.
If the above comments by Benson are a key to Benson's future as a Bengal, saying "It doesn't look good" is generous. This is not the first time that Benson has criticized the Bengals offense (although, to his credit, the last offense he criticized was ran by Bob Bratkowski and every fan hated it/him) but it is just another reference to Benson's character issues and bad attitude. It is probable that the reason the Bengals have not reached out to Benson is because they are not going to re-sign him.
At this point, it is still speculation as to whether or not the Bengals will cut ties with Benson and we won't know for sure until March 13 when free agency begins, but all signs, coming from Benson and the Bengals, point to him not wearing black and orange next year. If Benson decides to go into the market, it will be highly unlikely that he will find a no.1 role and will be forced to split time or, if he doesn't want to do that, retire. Last year when Benson was a free agent, there was little-to-no interest in him and after this season's performance, I doubt that much will change.