Another No. 1 bites the dust.
His draft status and the $17 million he received in guaranteed bonus money as a top-five draft choice aside, the Bears decided Monday afternoon that running back Cedric Benson wasn't worth the aggravation and cut the troubled running back with two years left on a five-year, $35 million deal.
Benson's latest arrest, early Saturday morning in Austin, Texas for DWI, came just 35 days after he was arrested and charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest on Lake Travis near Austin. He has disputed both of the boating charges, as have two witnesses. Benson also claimed not to have been intoxicated during his latest arrest.
But the Bears weren't buying it.
"Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate," said general manager Jerry Angelo, who drafted Benson fourth overall out of Texas in 2005. "As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of 'team' will not play for the Chicago Bears."
Hours after Benson's latest brush with the law, Angelo had said, "Disappointment is too much an often-used word when we're talking about Cedric."
According to his attorney, Sam Bassett, Benson showed up at Halas Hall on Monday morning in preparation for that day's practice but was instructed to go home by Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who declined to comment on the running back's status after the workout.
Benson tried to do some last-minute damage control by issuing a statement of apology through Atlanta attorney David Cornwell, but less than an hour later he was an ex-Bear.
"I apologize for making the poor decision to drink and drive during the early morning of Saturday, June 7," Benson said in the statement. "Given the incident last month, it was a particularly bad decision. I have no excuse for this lack of judgment. "Though I strongly believe that I am not guilty of any crime, I realize that the public and the Bears organization hold me to higher standard. Though my local attorneys will continue to work hard to prove my innocence, I confess to using poor judgment. Please accept my deepest apology."
Because Benson's play on the field was as erratic and disappointing as his behavior off it, his loss shouldn't have a huge affect on the Bears, who finished dead last in average gain per rushing attempt last season. But it does leave them with a lack of depth at the position. Rookie Matt Forte, a second-round pick from Tulane who is, as yet, unsigned, becomes the Bears' featured runner by default.
RB Cedric Benson
Warren Wimmer Photography
The only other running backs on the roster with NFL experience are Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe. Peterson is a seventh-year veteran who averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season, the same as Benson, and Wolfe, an undersized second-year player, averaged only 2.7 yards on 31 carries as a rookie in 2007.
Benson never came close to living up to expectations. In his three injury-marred seasons with the Bears, he rushed for a total of 1,593 yards on 420 carries for a 3.8-yard average and 10 touchdowns.
His lack of production was a major disappointment after his college career at Texas, where he picked up 5,540 yards on 1,112 carries and scored 64 touchdowns. Benson's inconsistent play was exacerbated by a string of injuries.
In his first NFL start as a rookie in 2005, Benson picked up 50 yards on 12 carries in Week 10 against the 49ers but suffered a sprained knee and missed the next six games.
The next season, Benson was given the starting job after Thomas Jones failed to participate in any of the Bears' voluntary offseason workouts. But in a light-contact, 11-on-11 drill, he suffered a separated shoulder after a collision with safety Mike Brown. Throughout that camp, Benson was hit harder than Jones by defensive players, many of whom favored the older veteran who had rushed for a career-best 1,335 yards the previous season.
Jones and Benson both helped the Bears to Super Bowl XLI that season but Jones got about twice as many carries, although they had identical averages of 4.1 yards per attempt. Benson enjoyed his most productive stretch as a pro in the second half of that season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in the final seven regular-season games. But he suffered another sprained knee in the first quarter of the 29-17 Super Bowl loss to the Colts.
With Jones traded to the Jets the following offseason, Benson had the No. 1 job all to himself last season but failed to capitalize, rushing for a career-worst 3.4 yards per carry and losing playing time to Peterson. Benson's season came to a premature conclusion when he suffered a fractured ankle on Nov. 25 and missed the final five games.
Benson is the latest in an ever-lengthening list of recent Bears first-round picks to fall far short of expectations.
Heisman Trophy-winning running back Rashaan Salaam played just three seasons after being drafted in the first round in 1995 and finished with numbers depressingly similar to Benson's, rushing for 1,682 yards on 470 carries and a 3.6-yard average.
The Bears went back to the running back well in 1998 and came away with Penn State's quirky Curtis Enis, who also lasted three seasons and was equally unproductive, rushing 456 times for 1,497 yards for a 3.3-yard average.
In 1999, the Bears busted on quarterback Cade McNown, who was banished after two forgettable seasons. In 2001, they went the wrong way with wide receiver David Terrell, who lasted four seasons but never caught more than 43 passes in any of them. Defensive lineman Michael Haynes (2003), a Big Ten sack leader, was gone after three years and never had more than two sacks in any NFL season.
Offensive tackle Marc Colombo (2002) spent the vast majority of his four seasons in Chicago rehabbing a dislocated kneecap before being released and catching on with the Cowboys.
"I don't really know yet," Grossman said. "But I have plenty of time. If I feel like I don't have enough reps with somebody, I bring them out here when we're not practicing, and we go through stuff. But I don't think it's going to be a problem."
NEWS & NOTES
Forte worked with the first team at Wednesday's OTA, during which the Bears were short-handed at the position. Peterson, the most experienced ball carrier remaining on the roster after Benson's release, underwent an appendectomy Monday night. Peterson is expected to resume normal football activities well before the first training camp practice on July 23.
RB Adrian Peterson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
On Wednesday, Forte, Wolfe and even wide receiver Devin Hester lined up at tailback. The Bears have discussed bringing in another veteran running back but haven't made any decisions yet.
"With Ced gone, obviously the younger guys that we have will have an opportunity to get better," Spencer said. "I'm sure that as we go on, we'll talk [about adding another running back]. But for right now, I'm going to get [reps for] my guys that I have right now." ...
Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher practiced during Wednesday's OTA, his first appearance at a voluntary workout this offseason.
Urlacher has been staying away in hopes of forcing the Bears to fatten his nine-year, $56.65 million contract, which still has four years remaining. He declined to talk to the media after practice, but defensive coordinator Bob Babich was glad to have him back.
"Anytime you're practicing football it's a big plus to have Brian Urlacher out here," Babich said. "He picked up right where he left off from the minicamp. It was good to have our leader out here."
Babich did not know if Urlacher would be back for next week's final three OTA practices. ...
If the message about protecting your job by avoiding trouble off the field wasn't clear to any of the Bears, Benson's release has underscored its importance.
”I think a lot of people already had that message clear," fullback Jason McKie said. “When Coach Smith first came here, he said he was going to treat us like real men. He said, ‘You've got to be real men on and off the field, and you've got to carry yourself in that way.’ So everybody knew what was at stake.
”Anytime you get in trouble, in all different instances, the first person they're going to look at is you because you're an athlete. And nowadays, trouble finds athletes off the field. So you've got to be real careful, and you've got to be aware of your surroundings and the environment you put yourself in.”
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We're in shorts. Obviously, if Ced was here, we'd have more competition. But that's not to say that we don't have competition. He's not going to be given anything. He's got to go out there and earn it. We are not in pads. When we get to camp, we'll see what he does in pads. But so far he's picking up everything, and he's doing a good job." – Bears running backs coach Tim Spencer on Matt Forte.
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