If you closely followed the transaction schedule during the first seven or so years of Ted Thompson’s reign as the Green Bay Packers general manager, you probably wouldn’t have a clue who is running the franchise over the last four months.
Once a rare participant in the free-agent market—instead choosing to build his football team through the draft and college free agency—Thompson has apparently evolved since the end of the 2011 season.
He signed free-agent defensive lineman in Daniel Muir, Phillip Merling and Anthony Hargrove and a replacement center in veteran Jeff Saturday. During the draft in April, Thompson aggressively moved up several times to nab names such as Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward. Before the preseason even began, Thompson was forced to sign Reggie Wells, a 92-game starter in the NFL, to help patch up a banged up second unit offensive line.
And Friday, it appears Thompson has pulled the trigger on free-agent running back Cedric Benson.
12 months ago, could anyone have envisioned Thompson making any of the aforementioned moves?
But back to Benson. I find myself surprisingly neutral on the signing. There’s positives and negatives, each tugging one way but failing to win me over.
Here’s a quick breakdown of those positives and negatives:
- Benson has produced. Three-straight 1,000-yard seasons doesn’t just happen by accident, especially in today’s shootout-style NFL game. And after a difficult start to his professional career, Benson turned himself into a No. 1 back. That counts for something.
- He’s stayed healthy. Over the last two seasons, Benson has missed just one game. James Starks and Alex Green—the Packers 1-2 at running back before the signing—obviously can’t say the same.
- Perfect fit for the four-minute offense. The Packers’ offense struggled to put the lid on close games last season, mostly due to their inability to run the football in the four-minute situations. Benson brings a tough, inside runner who can pick up the gritty yards late to close out games.
- Benson can pass protect. According to Pro Football Focus, Benson allowed just one sack, one quarterback hit and two hurries in 74 pass-blocking snaps last season. He’s widely considered one of the best blocking backs. In the Packers offense, pass-protecting skills from a running back are heavily weighed.
- Maybe this lights a fire under James Starks. While I thought he was a different runner to start 2011, he’s been a dud so far to start 2012. Thursday’s debacle in San Diego was unacceptable, as Starks dropped an easy catch and then fumbled an exchange with Aaron Rodgers. One could argue he’s regressed in his third NFL season.
- Finally brings some experience. Outside of Starks, the Packers running backs have a combined 21 NFL carries. Without Benson, the Packers backfield likely ranks as the most inexperienced in football. Benson brings seven years and 1,529 career carries.
- Benson is 29, and will be 30 in October. There’s a lot of wear on his tires, and it’s no secret why he was still without a team mid-way through August.
- He’s been in trouble with the law. The game he missed in 2011 was due to a suspension that resulted from two separate assault arrests, and the Bears released him in 2008 after two drunken driving incidents.
- No running back has fumbled more over the last two seasons. After coughing it up seven times in 2010, Benson put the ball on the ground five more times last season. Ball security is important to Packers coach Mike McCarthy, so we’ll see if there’s any correction there.
- Far from the most efficient running back. Benson’s career rushing average is just 3.8, and two of the three 1,000-yard seasons came with averages under 4.0. He needs a lot of touches to be produtive.
- Not the greatest receiver out of the backfield. Benson has 106 career catches, but he’s not going to be an upgrade as a pass-catching running back.
- Benson gets far too much credit for being a tackle-breaking back. Check out Pro Football Focus’ elusiveness rating from 2011 here. Benson ranks near the bottom, while Starks is fourth best. Interesting.
- If Benson sticks, he’ll steal reps and snaps from younger players like Green and Saine. Eventually, those guys need looks. And any chance of Marc Tyler making the 53-man roster probably just went up in smoke.
There’s a lot to digest with Friday’s (likely) move, including the fact that long-time starter Ryan Grant remains unsigned. Grant is younger, knows the offense, stays out of trouble and was a pillar in the locker room. Yet he’s without a job and Benson is likely preparing for a move to the east side of Wisconsin.