Who would have thought that BenJarvus Green-Ellis would find himself waging battle against Rex Burkhead for the final spot on the team's running back roster. At least that's the perspective of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who wrote last week during their position report:
as Marvin Lewis often says, "it's a young man's game," and The Law Firm is guilty of depreciating results. His 3.4 yards per carry last season logged a career low. Burkhead must prove himself in the preseason to unseat the veteran. The second-year pro from Nebraska can scoot and needs to show potential worth holding onto.
If Cincinnati keeps four dedicated running backs, the theorized roster would look like this: Rookie Jeremy Hill, second-year back Giovani Bernard, special teams ace Cedric Peerman and the winner between Burkhead and Green-Ellis. The fifth running back spot is usually dedicated to a fullback or additional tight end.
Despite his relative success in Cincinnati as a big short-yardage back, the only perceived value in keeping Green-Ellis around is based on a contingency if there's an injury. It's not just the yard/rush average that promoted his decline in Cincinnati; metrics agree across the board. Green-Ellis ranked No. 37 in DYAR and DVOA according to Football Outsiders, and ranked No. 52 overall according to Pro Football Focus (of the eligible backs that played 25 percent of their team's snaps). Green-Ellis was demoted to the third-team during OTA sessions this spring.
Then there's monetary value. If Cincinnati cuts Green-Ellis, they save $2.3 million against the cap -- a number that could come into play as negotiations with Andy Dalton comes around. Burkhead will cost Cincinnati $1.755 million combined over the next three years.
It's actually a little surprising that Cincinnati, if they intend to cut Green-Ellis, hasn't already done so. It would allow him time to find a new home and it's not like his contribution wasn't necessarily irreplaceable. Burkhead, a sixth-rounder from the 2013 NFL draft, spent his entire rookie season on the team's active roster, but was inactive in all but one game (Nov. 10 against the Baltimore Ravens). He generated 130 yards rushing on 28 carries in four preseason games and caught an additional five passes.
Since we're talking about the last spot on the team's running back roster, it really boils down to whom is the greater contributor on special teams.