August 3, 2012
Cedric Benson is still a free agent despite putting the finishing touches on a third straight 1,000-yard season. While he’s 29 and going on 30 this December, there is little doubt the seven-year veteran has something left in the tank.
He’s never been a really explosive runner, but you can’t really knock him where it matters, and that’s running in between the tackles, displaying sound vision, and an ability to push the pile in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The main problem? His asking price and his lack of versatility.
Like big names running backs before him like Clinton Portis and Shaun Alexander, Benson has failed to land a deal up until this point in the off-season, largely because he wants to be paid like a feature back, and few teams regards him as one anymore.
The other problem is that even if they think he can be a key part of their rushing attack, teams don’t see a receiving threat out of the back-field in Benson (and they’d be right), and they also don’t see a guy who can contribute on special teams.
That means whoever gives Benson his (likely) last NFL contract would be bringing him on just to run on early downs and contribute in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Considering his asking price, which is expected to be that of a featured runner, his new team simply wouldn’t be getting enough versatility. Translation: they wouldn’t be getting much bang for their buck – at all.
With that said, I still think Benson has some real value. I don’t believe he’s the best bruising back out there, but he definitely can lay punishment on the opposition, and he’s proven he can successfully handle a full load and carry a back-field with three straight campaigns of 270+ carries.
So, who would even be remotely interested in taking on an aging pile pusher who offers little to no versatility? Quite a few teams, actually. Let’s break down the teams that Benson is most likely to get serious interest from over the next month:
New York Jets
New York has been rumored to have spoken to Benson during the off-season, although head coach Rex Ryan has since said there’s no truth to the rumors. This is the same guy that once said the team wasn’t interested in acquiring Peyton Manning, though, so I don’t know how much I believe him. The fact is, their starting running back is the unimpressive Shonn Greene and they have very little competition behind him. Don’t be shocked if the Jets bring in Benson during preseason to either push or supplant Greene.
Arizona has two very talented running backs. The only problem is neither one is 100% healthy. Both Ryan Williams and Chris “Beanie” Wells are returning from knee injuries, and neither will play in the team’s first preseason game on August 4th. If they struggle to get back to full health for too much longer, Arizona could be forced to bring in reinforcements. Benson could be the first guy they call, with former Packers running back Ryan Grant also potentially being in the mix.
Jahvid Best is not even close to returning to the field yet (concussions), and both Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith have injury issues of their own. Both will be healthy and ready for 2012 barring an unforeseen injury, but the team would be wise to bring in another body if Best can’t get ready in time for week one. Benson doesn’t fit the offense like Best would, but he’s a veteran back who could still lead the charge.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay has reportedly not been too impressed with James Starks so far in camp, and his only real competition is the explosive Alex Green, who has no experience and is coming off of a torn acl. If Starks can’t hold onto the starting gig with both hands, Green Bay could be prompted to give Benson a call. On the flip side, their reluctance to retain veteran back Ryan Grant could be the writing on the wall and tell us all they’re content with the backs on their roster right now. Perhaps that is indeed the case, but it arguably shouldn’t be.
I’m sure there are a few more teams who would like their running back situation to be a little more concrete, but I think the Raiders round out the top-five teams interested in Benson, and not many more will seriously consider adding him. Oakland could eventually be the one to pull the trigger on a deal, though, as they have unproven insurance behind often injured starter Darren McFadden. McFadden has never played in more than 13 games in a season before, and all that resides behind him is little use scat-back Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson. Benson isn’t as explosive as either back, but he’s a tougher runner and would fit Oakland’s scheme better as a natural feature back in the event of another McFadden injury.
Ultimately, Benson will get signed. He’s getting up there in age, but he was pretty solid in 2011 and he put up solid numbers for three straight years in the AFC North, easily one of the toughest divisions to run in. He may not get the feature back role or money he’s looking for, but look for one of the above teams to sign Benson on before the 2012 season starts.