Crimp in the Plans

While losing Cedric Benson for a month to a knee injury is manageable, there is another aspect to his absence that could impact the team's off-season plans. The Bears might have used their depth in the backfield as trade bait.

The Bears have options at running back they haven't had in nearly 20 years when Walter Payton was backed up by Thomas Sanders, Calvin Thomas and a rookie Neal Anderson. The 1986 team led the league with 2,700 yards rushing.

The current group of Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson are on pace to go over 2,100 yards and are currently fifth in the league in rushing.

By no means is Jones comparable to Payton, but he is on pace for 1,400 yards. He will return to the starting lineup on Sunday against the Panthers after sitting out the previous game because of sore ribs. The time off did him good and hopefully he will be able to finish strong.

Peterson has proven to be worthy of more carries and can share the workload with Jones. Still if Benson were around over the next month he could have continued to prove why the Bears took him with the fourth overall pick in the draft. He had three runs of at least 25 yards in his last 29 carries and looked to get more comfortable with each touch before the injury.

Even though the Bears and Benson caught a break that he suffered only a sprained MCL, each game he misses makes it harder to roll the dice in the off-season.

Meaning the team very well could have looked to trade Jones for a draft pick if they felt Benson was ready to take the starting job. Some may ask why trade the most productive player at the position you rely more on than any other in this offense?

Sitting Benson during his rookie season is one thing, but to continue to do it is unrealistic from a salary cap standpoint. Jones signed a four-year $10 million deal with the Bears in 2004, which has turned into a bargain. Conversely Benson missed training camp and the preseason in order to get $17 million guaranteed.

Economics dictate that Benson has to become the starter or the investment was wasted. If he had a strong second half of the season it would have limited the public relations backlash for trading Jones.

Now the Bears will have a difficult time making such a move. Not only from a PR standpoint, but because they didn't have a chance to fully evaluate Benson's progress. The rookie is likely to return this season but not at 100 percent and in the heart of a playoff race. It will be hard to justify any deviation from the plan at that point.

Although there usually isn't a market for running backs on the trade block, Jones could have been an exception. He would come cheap with two years left at a base salary of $2 million and $2.25 million respectively. No one wanted to give up draft picks and then have to give Edgerrin James or Shaun Alexander a $50 million deal last off-season.

Jones has a chance to go to the Pro Bowl, he currently ranks fourth in votes among NFC running backs. He has dealt with the Benson situation as quietly as possible, but it's clear that he's uncomfortable with it.

Imagine a competition swayed Benson's way next training camp, Jones will not be happy to be a backup coming off a Pro Bowl type season. Peterson has proven he can play a supporting role and would serve as a compliment to Benson.

An additional first day draft pick could fill needs the Bears still have on offense. Tight end, offensive line and possibly even receiver need to be addressed. With Jerry Azumah due to hit free agency cornerback also becomes a priority. The flexibility an extra pick would also give the Bears ammunition to move up in a round if need be to grab a player.

Nothing is set in stone, but it's something to consider.

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