Unless the Cincinnati Bengals know something he doesn’t, running back Cedric Benson will be playing elsewhere in 2012.
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Benson has led the team in rushing for the past four seasons, including three consecutive campaigns of 1,000-plus yards. Cincinnati, though, has made no effort to re-sign Benson as he heads toward unrestricted free agency on March 13 when the NFL signing period begins.
“We haven’t had any talks about a new deal, re-signing or anything like that to my knowledge,” Benson told me and co-host Ross Tucker on Sirius XM NFL Radio. “I’m not sure where things are laying up there in Cincinnati.”
If he has taken his final snap for the Bengals, Benson will be leaving on a down note. His role greatly diminished in Cincinnati’s final three games as the Bengals relied more heavily on the Andy Dalton-led passing game. Cincinnati (9-7) reached the playoffs but dropped its final two contests, including a 31-10 first-round loss at Houston in which Benson only received seven carries.
“I just think we didn’t stick with what the offense was built on,” Benson said Tuesday night. “Since I’ve been there the past four years we’ve ran the football to try and win games. Even when we had Carson (Palmer) and Chad (Ochocinco), we still kept a strong identity in the run game.
“I just feel we got away from it. We didn’t let that part of the offense grow the way it could have.”
Benson didn’t help his cause with ball-control issues. The normally sure-handed Benson fumbled five times, losing two, in December victories against St. Louis and Arizona.
“It was a little bit of me trying to do too much and a little bit of it being a long season,” said Benson, who hadn’t previously fumbled since Week 16 of the 2010 campaign. “The largest part of it was trying to make the most of the opportunities I was getting rather than letting the game come to me. I paid for it a little bit. Fortunately, we didn’t lose any of those games so that was the sweet thing about it.”
Benson, 29, knows his free-agent market value may be tempered by his checkered off-field history. Benson served a one-game suspension last season after being arrested during the offseason on misdemeanor assault charges for the second time in two years.
“As tired as I am and my advisors and family of these types of things coming up, with each passing situation, it’s a learning experience,” Benson said. “It’s definitely a life-changing experience.
“I’m not perfect. I don’t go out seeking any trouble or try to put myself in a confrontational situation. I try my best to avoid them by all means. But life sometimes throws you curveballs. The best thing is to learn in the future and avoid them happening again.”
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 draft by Chicago, Benson has rushed for 5,769 yards and 31 touchdowns in seven NFL seasons.