Another No. 1 bites the dust.
His draft status and the $13 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 last 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 the boating charges, as have two witnesses. Benson 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.”
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.”
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 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.
The only other running backs on the roster with NFL experience are journeyman 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 undersized second-year player Garrett Wolfe, who 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 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.
Lions: Not so fast on top pick
Lomas Brown was the Lions’ first-round pick in 1985. When he looks at right tackle Gosder Cherilus, the Lions’ first-round pick this year, he thinks of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ first-round pick last year.
“You know what that kind of reminds me of?” Brown said. “A lot of people were talking about Calvin Johnson. ‘Oh, he’s a bust.’”
Then Brown thinks back to 1991, when he was the Lions’ left tackle and they drafted wide receiver Herman Moore in the first round. Brown and teammate Kevin Glover weren’t impressed.
“Remember Herman’s first two years, man? He couldn’t catch a cold,” Brown said. “I remember me and Glove went to the locker room after practice. ... ‘Glove, man, they wasted their money on their first-round pick. He’s horrible.’”
Cherilus hasn’t necessarily been horrible during the Lions’ organized team activities. But he has been beaten in pass-blocking drills at times. He is adjusting to the speed of the NFL and no contact is allowed — a tough challenge for a guy whose strength is run blocking and physical play.
“A lot of times, it looks like he’s grabbing and he’s not punching the guy, but it’s all about the timing,” Brown said. “He can learn. He’ll get that down during training camp. The more reps he gets with it, the better he’ll get. So I’m not really concerned with him.
“I do like what I heard, that he’s got a nasty attitude. You can’t teach that.”
Brown plans to work with Cherilus this offseason and in training camp, though the specifics haven’t been ironed out.
“I don’t think he’s very far (away),” Brown said. “I just think there’s fundamental things for him.
“When you’re young and you step into this league, man, it’s rare that you get some guys who can come and start right now.”
Vikings: Allen thinking big
Jared Allen has yet to play a game as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. But the Pro Bowl defensive end has big expectations for his new team.
“Put all the pressure in the world on us,” said Allen, while attending the Vikings’ three-day minicamp last weekend. “Expectations should be high. Winning is expected. That’s not a hopeful thing. It’s not like, ‘We hope to get here.’
“We expect to win the NFC North. We expect to go to the playoffs, and we expect to do well in the playoffs. We expect to go to the Super Bowl. That cannot be put on the back burner. I came here because I expect to win. That’s the attitude this organization has.”
Allen, acquired in a blockbuster offseason trade with the Kansas City Chiefs and then signed to a six-year, $73.3 million contract, is a major reason the Vikings should show major improvement from the team that went 8-8 last season.
Free-agent additions Bernard Berrian and Madieu Williams also are expected to be difference-makers.
Coach Brad Childress and the rest of the Vikings brass got their first look at the entire roster during the minicamp. Childress didn’t appear adverse to the confidence displayed by Allen.
“Things always build this time of year,” Childress said. “Our guys are able to look around and know that the team continues to get better. That’s our job -- to continue to put good players on the field.
“Competition continues to grow, and that’s what you want to try to do to be a good football team. ... You’ve got to be a pretty confident guy outright in this business, first of all, to play it. As a unit — offense, defense, special teams — I think our confidence continues to build.”