So Cedric Benson wants to be paid. Good for him. I, for one, really hope that he gets what he's asking for because I think he deserves it. He's worked his ass off for the Bengals for over two years and carried them to the playoffs in 2009.
However, I'm not 100 percent sure that the Bengals see him as the answer to the future of the running back position. Here's why.
When it comes to a running back in a west coast offense, especially one being led by a rookie quarterback, it's important that the running back is productive. If he's productive, it will open up the play action and keep the defense honest, taking some pressure off of Andy Dalton while he searches for his young receivers. However, if the running back is not productive, defenses don't have to be really honest, allowing them to be all over Dalton while he's trying to find A.J. Green in the middle of the field.
Just how do we measure production, though? In my opinion, there's no better way to measure a running back's production than looking at his yards per carry.
In 2009, when Benson took the Bengals to the playoffs, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry, which is kind of a perfect number to open up the passing game. However, in 2010, his average fell to 3.5 yards per carry. It was actually so bad in 2010 that he only had three games at a level of 4.2 yards per carry or greater (Tampa Bay -- 6.3, Buffalo -- 5.0 and Cleveland -- 4.8).
If Benson can't get his yard per carry average back up, or the team isn't interested in investing in an offensive line capable of allowing Benson to do his job, the Bengals probably shouldn't murder themselves financially to bring Benson back, especially at the cost of losing other important free agents (Johnathan Joseph). They could probably find some other running back much cheaper that would fail to reach the 4.0 ypc mark.
However, I believe Benson is perfectly capable of reaching 4.0 ypc as long as he has the right people surrounding him. Hopefully, new guard Clint Boling will help make a difference inside and the Bengals either give Anthony Collins a legitimate shot at right tackle or Andre Smith actually lives up to his No. 6 overall pick. If that happens, Benson, or any other running back may have a chance to produce in 2011, helping the bengals offense produce along the way.