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With Bratkowski Gone: Why The Bengals Might Not Sign Cedric Benson Back

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As we pointed out on Monday, Bengals running back Cedric Benson approved the firing of former Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Actually, we're not sure if he just approved. We're pretty sure he was rising from his seat, enthusiastically clapping with tears in his eyes after watching the most inspiring and moving show he'd ever seen -- Star Wars on Ice.

After the applause died and he found his long coat to walk on the insanely icy streets of Cincinnati, Benson commented on the firing.

"It's good to see the Bengals making some moves," Benson said. "It's not just about going back to that '09 style, but being able to fit everything together and use our talent. And we've got a lot of talent and I don't see any drop off if those guys (Owens and Ocho) don't come back."

Now the question with Benson is: Should the Bengals even sign him back? If he repeated his 2009 performance in 2010, one could make an argument that the Bengals would be stupid for not signing Benson back.

However, Benson's season is one to forget. Among the league’s 48 top rushers who have run the football at least 92 times, Benson’s 3.5 yard/rush average ranks 43rd and his seven fumbles ranked second-most in the league. As we pointed out in a previous article, it's not that Benson fumbled so much, it's when they happened.

Benson’s fumble against the Atlanta Falcons occurred when the Bengals were down by a touchdown with 9:46 left in the fourth quarter. The Falcons recovered and scored a touchdown, giving Atlanta a 14-point lead and the eventual win. Benson fumbled with 2:22 left in the first quarter against Indianapolis, who recovered the fumble, scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession giving them a 17-point lead in a game that the Bengals lost by six points.  With a ten-point lead against the Buffalo Bills, Benson fumbled at the Bengals 32-yard line with 10:04 left in the third quarter. The Bills’ Drayton Florence recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown reducing Buffalo’s deficit to three points in a game they’d win 49-31. With 7:44 left in the second quarter, Benson fumbled the football on San Diego’s 20-yard line. The Chargers would eventually score a field goal on their ensuring position. That’s five lost fumbles that resulted in three touchdowns, a field goal and a punt. Considering he's been sure-handed in the past, we're willing to give him a break for having an aberration year with his fumbles. But not enough of a break to favor him over Joseph, if given the option.

We have a hard time believing that the Bengals would blindly offer Benson another deal comparable to the one that reportedly offered during the offseason last year -- a three-year extension worth between $16-20 million. Along with playing behind most of the season, the fact the Bengals rushing offense wasn't effective enough often forced Bengals quarterbacks to throw 590 times this season -- most during the Marvin Lewis era. And with running backs expected to earn something near $8.5 million, we have even more of a hard time believing the team would use the franchise tag on Benson.