James Starks better look out. Cedric Benson is reportedly close to signing with the Green Bay Packers, and thus seemingly close to stealing Starks' job.
The move to sign Benson was an intriguing one to say the least, and puts Starks' role on the Packers offense in doubt.
Benson, 29 now and 30 by season's end, is a powerful back who'd been holding out hopes of signing a more lucrative contract than the minimum of what he could be offered. It seems that he's come to realize he won't be getting much, if any, more than the minimum.
While Benson is old, he's shown to be one of the more durable backs in the league who'll get the yards that are there, absorb some contact and can be counted on as somewhat of a workhorse, even if the Packers don't run very much. While that may only be so for one more season, the contract is likely for only one year with minimum guarantees (the terms of the contract haven't been disclosed yet, as it hasn't been signed).
The Packers can count on their aerial attack to open up lanes in the run game for the former Bengal, and for Benson to pick up yards in the space left because of it.
We know what Benson will bring to the table. But where it leaves Starks is another question.
Starks has had a bad training camp so far and it couldn't have come at a less opportune time.
For all the pre-camp hype he'd generated, the third-year back has been mediocre at best in camp and faltered during Green Bay's first preseason game against the Chargers. After dropping a simple pass from Aaron Rodgers, Starks failed to secure a handoff from Rodgers a few plays later.
Who Should be the Packers' Primary Back in 2012?
The signing of Benson is a sheer indication that the Packers don't have the same confidence in Starks as their feature back as they used to.
With Starks struggling, Green recovering from an ACL tear, Brandon Saine missing the first preseason game with an injury and Marc Tyler being an undrafted free agent, Benson seems likely to rise up the Packers depth chart. If he doesn't, the Packers probably included little guarantees in his contract to protect them in case he flops.
Now, where does Starks exactly fit on the depth chart?
In the dream best-case scenario for Starks, he awakens from his camp slump due to the added competition and the Packers cut Benson as they secretly planned all along.
In the realistic best-case scenario for Starks, Benson proves to be solid and Starks elevates his play to the point that Benson and Starks share carries.
In the worst-case scenario for Starks, Benson proves to be who he is—a workhorse—and the Packers keep Alex Green as a change-of-pace back so as not to stunt his development. This leaves Starks to battle Saine for the third-string job. The Packers then have to decide whether they value Saine's third down prowess over Starks' superior running ability or whether they want to keep them both.
The most realistic scenario is probably in between the last two.
Whether this signing is purely for motivation or for the intent of providing legitimate, proven competition in the form of Benson as their primary back doesn't matter too much.
If Starks can't elevate his level of play, he won't be the major piece of the Packers' running attack like he was expected to be.