The Green Bay Packers apparently are set to make arguably the most unorthodox transaction in general manager Ted Thompson's tenure by signing the free agent running back, though nothing had been announced as of midday on Saturday and there was no "Benson" nameplate hanging in the locker room.
The Packers have tried hard to foster the belief that they're different than most organizations. On the personnel trail, they look for "Packer People."
And yet, Benson has a troubling history. In May 2008, he was arrested for boating while intoxicated. About five weeks later, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. In June 2010, Benson was arrested for assault after allegedly punching a bartender in the face. In July 2011, he was arrested for punching a former roommate. For the last of those offenses, he was sentenced to 20 days in jail and received a three-game suspension; he wound up serving five days and getting a one-game suspension.
The NFL doesn't provide these numbers, but it's hard to imagine any team in the league having more suspended players under contract, with Johnny Jolly (indefinite), Anthony Hargrove (eight games), Mike Neal (four games) and Erik Walden (one game). To be fair, Jolly isn't really with the team, Hargrove's suspension came from actions with New Orleans and Neal was suspended because he didn't follow the rules on prescription drugs, not for taking anything illegal. However, Benson's history doesn't exactly scream "Packer People."
Moreover, Benson has a history of being selfish. One reason why the Bengals signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis away from New England rather than re-signing Benson is that Benson didn't want to play in the Bengals' by-committee approach in the backfield. More on that in a moment.
Really, it comes down to production. And it comes down to winning. Ron Wolf took a chance on Andre Rison in 1996 and the Packers wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without him.
Benson is coming off three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, with 1,251 yards and six touchdowns in 2009, 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010 and 1,067 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. Those were the first 1,000-yard seasons in seven seasons for Benson, who bombed as the No. 4 pick of the 2005 draft by the Bears.
However, the pops-off-the-page production masks what's truly so-so production. In 2009, Benson averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but that slipped to 3.5 in 2010 and 3.9 in 2011. Last season, James Starks averaged 4.3 and Ryan Grant (who is 19 days older than Benson) averaged 4.2. Of course, that's sort of an apples-to-oranges comarison, with Aaron Rodgers opening up things for Starks and Grant while Benson was the focal point of opposing defenses for Cincinnati.
Also, Benson is a workhorse-style running back. He ranked sixth, fifth and seventh in the league in rushing attempts, respectively, in 2009 through 2011. With Grant, the Packers featured a workhorse-style running game in 2007, 2008 and 2009, but it's hard to imagine they'd go that route with a 29-year-old running back with limited productivity in the passing game. In four seasons in Cincinnati, he averaged 20.0 receptions per season and 7.0 yards per reception. Last season, Starks caught 29 passes (7.4 average). Grant, never known for his hands, averaged 23.0 receptions per season (not counting 2010) and 7.0 yards per reception. He caught 19 last year in a part-time role.
Why the signing makes sense
Benson is a big, powerful running back who could be excellent in late-game situations when the Packers are trying to run out the clock in their four-minute offense. Starks, with his upright running style and tendency to dilly-dally in the backfield, struggles to get anything extra when hit near the line of scrimmage, and the Packers have no idea about second-year players Alex Green and Brandon Saine. Plus, the move would be a win-win for the Packers. Either he performs or doesn't, and there likely would be no financial ramifications if he doesn't make the team.
Why the signing doesn't makes sense
Benson gets what's blocked and little else. Of 56 running backs who got at least one-quarter of their teams' rushing attempts, Benson ranked 55th in ProFootballFocus.com's "elusive" rankings. He forced 22 missed tackles on 288 touches. Measure that against Starks, who ranked fourth with 37 missed tackles on 162 touches. Grant, never known for his make-you-miss style, ranked 36th with 16 missed tackles on 153 touches.
Running the ball, however, isn't the No. 1 duty for the Packers' backs. It's protecting the passer and hanging onto the football. And this is where Benson is a bad fit.
In pass protection, Benson is OK. He allowed one sack, one quarterback hit and two hurries for four total pressures in 70 pass-blocking snaps, putting him 27th out of 66 running backs in ProFootballFocus.com's "pass blocking efficiency." Starks, however, finished 11th with one sack, no hits and one hurry for two total pressures in 71 pass-blocking snaps and John Kuhn was 23rd with no sacks, no hits and four hurries for four total pressures in 70-pass blocking snaps.
Worse is fumbling the ball. In his last two seasons, Benson has put the ball on the ground a whopping 12 times. All of Green Bay's running backs combined fumbled seven times in the last two seasons.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.