Despite a lot of talk to the contrary, the Bears shouldn't even consider cutting Cedric Benson until training camp and, if he's healthy, they shouldn't cut him regardless of the outcome of last Saturday night's arrest for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest.
The Bears should treat Benson's arrest as what it is — a misdemeanor. Regular people don't usually lose their jobs over a misdemeanor, even if they're coming off a bad year. And in this case, there is considerable difference of opinion as to whether Benson resisted or was the object of overzealous police work. He has denied that he was drunk and that he resisted arrest.
Keep in mind, Benson has not been arrested since he was drafted by the Bears in 2005.
The fact that he's had only one arrest in three years doesn't make him a model citizen. But as general manager Jerry Angelo said last weekend after the Bears drafted two players with arrest records in college, "This isn't an angelic game, as we all know, so we certainly aren't going to get all angels."
And Benson is not a repeat offender in the NFL, although he was arrested for trespassing in college five years ago when he attempted to recover a TV set that had been stolen from him.
The knee jerks who want Benson released immediately point out that he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season, which is admittedly a putrid performance, especially for the fourth overall pick in the draft.
But no one on the Bears averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry last season. Adrian Peterson had the same average as Benson, Garrett Wolfe managed just 2.7 yards per attempt and Devin Hester netted minus-10 yards on seven attempts behind an offensive line that struggled to create holes big enough for an anorexic midget to slip through.
Second-round pick Matt Forte may well be capable of replacing Benson as the Bears' featured ballcarrier, but Smith and Angelo have always insisted that the team that "gets off the bus running" needs two starting-caliber runners.
It's debatable whether Benson qualified last season as "starting caliber," and he's coming off a fractured left ankle that required surgery, screws and a plate to fix. But who didn't believe Benson was a serviceable NFL running back during the final seven regular-season games of the 2006 Super Bowl season, when he averaged 4.9 yards per attempt while splitting carries with Thomas Jones? Jones is the guy who all the revisionist history buffs pine for while ripping Benson. But in 2006, when they both were running behind the same, solid offensive line, they had identical 4.1-yard averages. If Benson had a similar season last year, no one would be calling for his head.
It remains to be seen if Benson is healthy enough to duplicate that 2006 effort. If he is, he can still be a valuable contributor whether he's starting or not. If he can't contribute, he'll be a candidate to be released.
The Bears have already paid Benson $14 million in bonus money, the lion's share of what he'll make on his five-year rookie contract. Cutting him would cost millions of dollars in salary cap money that could go toward a new contract for Tommie Harris, or Devin Hester, or Robbie Gould, or even an extension for Brian Urlacher.
If Benson can't help the Bears win, get rid of him and get someone who can. But let's wait for all the facts, all sides of the story and for the legal system to run its course before crucifying a player just because he hasn't lived up to expectations on the field.
If the Bears canned every player and coach who didn't get the job done last season, they could print their roster on a matchbook cover.
The Bears still have good depth at safety if Mike Brown can overcome the injuries that have caused him to miss 43 of the previous 64 games over the past four seasons. Fourth-round pick Craig Steltz was added to a group that also includes Danieal Manning, who has started 29 games in his first two season, Brandon McGowan, who started nine times last season, and Kevin Payne, a fifth-round pick last season who showed promise early but suffered a fractured wrist in the fourth game.
Archuleta played in 15 games last season, and started 10 of the first 11 games at strong safety, but he was used primarily as a special-teams player after that. He still finished eighth on the team with 64 tackles and had 2 sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and 5 special-teams tackles.
Archuleta was a first-round pick of the Rams in 2001, and he flourished under Lovie Smith, who was the Rams' defensive coordinator. But, after signing a $30 million free-agent contract with the Redskins in 2006, he was benched in the second half of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team." --Bears G.M. Jerry Angelo on the 2007 team.
Wide receiver Roy Williams thought the Lions were going to trade him earlier this offseason, and even after coach Rod Marinelli assured him he wasn't going anywhere, he still wasn't 100 percent certain he was staying.
"From all the rumors, I thought I was out of here," Williams said. "Just from listening to everything. But then I listened to Coach saying I wasn't going nowhere, so that reassured me that I wasn't going anywhere."
Williams said Marinelli called him once in March.
Asked if that was all he needed to hear or if he had any doubts after that, Williams said: "I mean, I don't think it was zero-percent chance I wasn't going anywhere. I think if somebody would have come with something that could have benefited the Lions, I think I would have been out of here."
Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington reportedly were interested in Williams, though president Matt Millen said he never received any serious offers.
Williams is from Odessa, Texas, and played at the University of Texas. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram quoted an anonymous source that said Williams wants to play in Dallas.
"I don't know who said that," Williams said. "Like I said, I'm just happy to play in the league, man. I'd play for anybody, any team. Like I said, I want to be a Detroit Lion, because this is where I got drafted. It's a challenge to me to try to get this organization from the bottom and take it to the top. That's a big challenge. It's not working too good right now, but we're slowly rising to the top."
Asked if he wanted to play in Dallas at some point, Williams said: "I'll play for anybody, man. But if you can get back home, everybody wants to play at home. But I can't choose that."
Williams might be able to choose next year after his contract expires. But he said he thought the Lions would designate him their franchise player to keep him off the free-agent market.
"I don't think I'm gone next year, either," Williams said. "I think they're going to slap me."
Williams said the Lions had not talked to him about a contract extension, but that would not be a motivating factor this season.
"I don't play for money, man," Williams said. "I play for wins. The money is there. It's what this league is based on or whatever, but I don't play for money. I play for wins. Growing up, I didn't have money, so that's not a big issue to me. I've always been a winner all my life. That's all I care about."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our expectation is we will be disappointed if we don't win 10 games, because that will mean we're not in the playoffs and that sucks. I can't make it any simpler than that. Anybody who says that's not their expectation level is unfortunately not very much of a competitor." — QB Jon Kitna, in the latest incarnation of his 10-win talk.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Jermichael Finley, 21, is one of the youngest players on a youthful Packers team, but he'll have a chance to grow up in a hurry this offseason.
The third-round draft pick from Texas should get plenty of reps as the No. 2 tight end in the four weeks of organized team activities, which start May 19.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said at the end of the three-day rookie orientation camp in early May that Tory Humphrey is among a handful of players who probably will be held out of the OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp as they continue their recoveries from significant injuries sustained last season.
Humphrey, a promising third-year prospect, suffered a season-ending broken fibula on the first day of training camp. Humphrey's injury history, coupled with the release of eight-year veteran Bubba Franks early in the offseason, left Donald Lee as the only player of note at tight end. Lee, a six-year vet, took over the starting role from Franks last season and posted career highs for catches (48), receiving yards (575) and touchdowns (six).
Since the Packers like to incorporate two-tight end sets in their passing as well as running schemes, they turned to the draft to grab a potential complement to Lee.
Finley was taken 91st overall. Although he's lanky at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, the Packers were sold on his athleticism and tremendous hands.
"Very athletic," McCarthy said after watching Finley in the rookie camp. "(He has) a little more length than I remember on film. I think he has a tremendous upside. Just very, very impressed with his athletic ability."
Finley will need the extra work in Humphrey's indefinite absence. He's nowhere near being a complete tight end and is raw as a blocker, which is where Franks excelled more than being a highly productive pass catcher in the red zone.
Questions also are raised about Finley's readiness for the rigors of the pro game. He left college as a redshirt sophomore.
Besides Humphrey, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (shoulder), cornerback Will Blackmon (foot) and linebacker Abdul Hodge (knees) are no better than questionable to return to the field for the minicamp, June 17-19.
In a change from the past, however, third-year head coach Mike McCarthy moved the voluntary organized team activities ahead of the mandatory minicamp for the full squad.
The OTAs will be spread out over four weeks, beginning May 19.
The minicamp, which had been a staple in mid- to late May, will conclude the offseason slate June 17-19.
"I just felt it would be better to do that at the end and give the chance to the rookies and the younger players to build up to that camp, instead of having the camp first and then having the OTAs," McCarthy said.
The league mandates that the Packers' rookie class be off for two weeks following the orientation camp. Consequently, those players won't return to Green Bay and be with the veterans for the first time until May 18.
McCarthy said none of the rookies would be affected by academic schedules at their former schools, which in previous years has kept a few players from participating in minicamps or portions of OTAs.
"Who do you want me to put in there?" McCarthy responded when asked at the start of the rookie camp why the team is maintaining Favre's locker for the here and now.
Favre, who announced in early March his retirement after 16 years as the team's starting quarterback, has made subtle suggestions in recent weeks that a comeback isn't out of the question.
McCarthy, though, isn't expecting Favre to reconsider and indicated that the team is interested in preserving Favre's locker space as a shrine of some sorts.
"I think it's more than a locker, and there's some plans for the locker that will be addressed in the future," McCarthy said. "But, there's nothing else to it.
"I wouldn't want his locker, especially after his hygiene — my goodness," a joking McCarthy added. "It's a locker of a very special player in the history of our organization."
Eleven of the signees were under contract for the rookie camp: running back Kregg Lumpkin of Georgia; receivers Taj Smith of Syracuse, Jake Allen of Mississippi College and Rod Harper of Murray State; tight ends Mike Peterson of Northwest Missouri State and Joey Haynos of Maryland; center Brennen Carvalho of Portland State; linebackers Marcus Riley of Fresno State and Danny Lansanah of Connecticut; punter Ken DeBauche of Wisconsin; and long snapper J.J. Jansen of Notre Dame.
The team had 19 undrafted players in for the rookie camp on a tryout basis. The Packers subsequently signed three of them: offensive tackle Ryan Considine of Louisiana Tech and cornerbacks Condrew Allen of Portland State and Kyle Ward of Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Packers have 89 players on their offseason roster — nine more than the league maximum — but their nine draft picks and running back Ryan Grant have yet to sign contracts and don't count against the roster limit. Grant is an exclusive-rights free agent and isn't signing the tender from the team as he tries to get a long-term contract after his productive 2007 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think things will settle some more once we're around the vets, working out with them (later in the month). Right now, it's just good seeing the building (Lambeau Field) and trying to get familiarized with everyone and everything that goes on on a day-to-day basis here." — Receiver Jordy Nelson, a second-round draft pick this year, on breaking in as an NFL player at the Packers' rookie orientation camp May 2-4.