Bengal Hasn't Changed His Stripes

A colleague of mine tried to convince me recently that Bengals tailback Cedric Benson had changed and deserved a healthy contract. After yet another run-in with the law, I'm feeling vindicated.


Bengals running back Cedric Benson had 321 carries for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, but it may have been his last in Cincinnati. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Not too long ago, I got into a back-and-forth with a colleague about former Bears and current Bengals running back Cedric Benson.

I, having previously covered the Bears and being well aware of the sour taste he left in everyone's mouth during his three-year roller coaster in Chicago, warned Cincinnati that signing Benson to a long-term contract would be an unwise idea. My colleague, who covers the Bengals and watched Benson pick himself up off the scrap heap to rush for 3,109 yards in 41 games the last three seasons, believed the former first-round pick to be a changed man and deserving of a lucrative commitment from the organization.

Not only was my fellow writer from the Queen City disagreeing with my comments on Benson, but he was also critical of the "tone" in which I made them. Perhaps he had a point there. Sure, Benson had proven to be a bit on the greedy side (a 36-day holdout essentially ruined his rookie year) and suffering from a severe sense of entitlement (he felt he deserved the starting job despite being outworked in practice and outperformed on game day by veteran Thomas Jones), but that's somewhat understandable for a millionaire athlete in his early-20s that has been coddled since he was a superstar prepster in Midland, Texas.

Perhaps my cynicism had gotten the best of me after all. If NBA enigma Ron Artest could go from the "Malice at the Palace" in 2004 to the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2011, then maybe Benson could indeed reinvent himself after being kicked to the curb by the Bears in 2008 – two alcohol-related arrests in consecutive months ended his career in the Windy City – and subsequently spending an uncomfortable amount of time in NFL purgatory, until the Bengals finally gave his agent a call.

This isn't an I-told-you-so column, as my cohort in Cincinnati and I have hashed out our differences on the matter and both since moved on with our lives, but forgive me if Sunday's news from the Lone Star State has me feeling a bit vindicated.

According to the Austin American Statesman, Benson was again sent to Travis County Jail – he was released several hours later after posting $10,000 bail – following a late-night incident in Austin, this time for punching a man "several times in the face, resulting in severe injuries." The Class A misdemeanor charge actually comes under the category of "family violence" because the victim, Charles Clavens, had been living at Benson's house for a few weeks, even though they are not related.

Benson, the second-leading rusher in the decorated history of the University of Texas, behind only former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, has to be on first-name basis with several members of the Austin police department by now. In May of 2008, the 5-11, 222-pounder was arrested for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest on Lake Travis. He was arrested again in June of the same year, this time for driving while intoxicated in the wee hours of the morning near the party-central part of town – neither grand jury indicted him, however.

And it doesn't stop there: While playing for the Longhorns in 2003, Benson was accused of criminal trespassing when he kicked in an apartment door in an attempt to recover a television he alleged had been stolen from him. In 2002, he was the subject of three alcohol and drug misdemeanors, although the charges were later dropped.

Benson has served up every rationale known to mankind for each indiscretion, going so far as to insinuate that the Austin police is racist and out to get him, which leads me to wonder why he continues to spend so much of his time there.

Believe me, as a product of Florida State during the glory days of the Bobby Bowden era, I know all too well the kind of preferential treatment given to athletes on college campuses, particularly at a big-time football factory like Texas. A Bears radio personality I worked alongside for years loves to tell the story of Chicago playing a preseason game at Houston in 2007, when Reliant Stadium security guards swooned around Benson like teenagers at a "Twilight" premiere, so the notion that he has been singled out by Austin authorities is absurd.

Come follow me on

@JC_NFL

If you believe in karma, then Benson's latest run-in with the long arm of the law couldn't have come at a more apropos time, as the lockout appears to be in its final stages and free agency could be right around the corner. According to my rankings from a few months ago, I had Benson as the No. 5 running back available on the open market, behind fellow 2005 first rounder Ronnie Brown – and, admittedly, I may have ranked him a spot or two lower than my contemporaries did simply because of my experience with him when he was a Bear. With quarterback Carson Palmer on his way out the door and second-round selection Andy Dalton likely to take over very soon under center, the sentiment in Cincinnati was that Benson would be re-signed and continue as the 20- to 25-carry workhouse, helping to take pressure off the rookie.

The Bengals, who lead the league with 35 arrests since 2000, recently witnessed three of their players in handcuffs in the span of only eight days, culminating with the Benson episode. First it was cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones – another shocker, I know – and then safety Marvin White, the former for an incident at a Cincinnati nightclub and the latter for assault and disturbing the peace at a Louisiana child care center.

Again, this isn't an I-told-you-so column, but any goodwill Benson banked with coach Marvin Lewis and Co. is gone, even before he invents his next inevitable excuse.


John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.


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