Only twice in six years has Green-Ellis topped 1,000 yards on the ground. The 29-year-old hasn't averaged four yards a carry since 2010 and managed a career-low 3.4 yards a tote last year with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Still, Green-Ellis was a capable, if unspectacular runner. He was decent in pass protection. And Green-Ellis hadn't lost a fumble in his entire career until arriving in Cincinnati two years ago.
That made it a mild surprise when the Bengals parted ways with Green-Ellis Friday, but with all things considered, the Bengals made the only move they could with the plodding back.
Ian Rapoport was among the first to report that the Bengals had cut bait on Green-Ellis:
Can’t say it’s a surprise, but the #Bengals have released RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Invested in that position the last 2 years.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 29, 2014
Rapoport also passed along word regarding one of the factors that led to Green-Ellis' departure:
Former #Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was due $2.3M this year, which proved too much considering the youth there. $700K in dead money.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 29, 2014
Make no mistake, though, this was a cut that had more to do with "The Law Firm's" production than it did his performance.
When Green-Ellis inked a three-year deal with the Bengals back in 2012, he was supposed to be the team's featured back of the future, a replacement for the departed Cedric Benson.
Things went fairly well in year one. After overcoming an early-season case of the fumbles, Green-Ellis went on to top 1,000 rushing yards for the second time in his career. From Week 11 to Week 15, Green-Ellis gained 100-plus yards on the ground four times in five weeks.
However, after averaging just 3.9 yards a carry, the Bengals used a second-round pick last year in North Carolina's Giovani Bernard.
It was the beginning of the end.
While Bernard opened eyes and turned heads in topping 1,200 total yards as a rookie, Green-Ellis put people to sleep. His 756 rushing yards were a career low for a season in which Green-Ellis had more than 200 carries. So was that aforementioned 3.4 yards a pop.
Those moribund numbers led the Bengals to once again invest a second-round pick at running back in 2014, this time on LSU's Jeremy Hill.
Early in camp, it appeared that the veteran might be able to hold off the rookie, who was having some trouble acclimating to the pro game. However, as we progressed into the preseason, Hill steadily closed the gap.
In the Bengals' preseason finale, Hill obliterated it:
Hill shined against the Indianapolis Colts, gaining an eye-popping 160 total yards on 26 touches. Head coach Marvin Lewis called it a test of sorts while speaking with reporters after the game, according to the team's website:
Well, Jeremy has to understand what it’s like to be an NFL running back. We aren’t five deep. When we get to Sundays and we go down to 46 guys, and if he’s going to be the guy, then he’s going to have to be able to shoulder the load.
You can get some good conditioning out here tonight. He’s going to learn to run with his pads down and protect the football. They were good snaps for him to learn with tonight.
Given that performance, the Bengals' decision was all but made for them. Hill showed great burst; he showed speed. He displayed more than a little skill in catching the football out of the backfield.
In short, Hill demonstrated several qualities Green-Ellis just doesn't have.
So, the Bengals were left with a choice—the unknown commodity who has shown flashes of considerable talent in all aspects of the game (except perhaps blitz pickup, a weak spot for many rookies) or a steady veteran who's going to get you three or four yards no matter how big or small the hole is.
Oh, and the former back is younger with a salary that's a fraction of the latter.
There was no choice to be made. The fact that Green-Ellis doesn't play on special teams sealed his fate.
Mind you, this hardly means that Green Ellis is done in the NFL. There will be plenty of teams interested in a veteran back who can pick up tough yardage and very rarely fumbles, especially in light of this little nugget:
Most Rush TD since 2010: 1. Adrian Peterson 46 2. Arian Foster 42 3. Marshawn Lynch 41 4. BenJarvus Green-Ellis 37 (via @ESPNStatsInfo)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 29, 2014
However, in the Queen City at least, it was simply a numbers game. It was upside vs. mediocrity and relatively expensive vs. relatively cheap.
It was a decision that wasn't, and the Bengals were left with only one real course of action:
The Law Firm had to be disbarred.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor