Is Cedric Benson the Answer for the Cincinnati Bengals?

Joe GSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2008

As soon as former Texas Longhorns running back Cedric Benson ran into trouble with the law this summer, I joked that it was only a matter of time before the Bears cut him and the Bengals signed him.

Hey Mike Brown, I was only kidding.

The last couple of seasons, the Bengals have been known more for their transgressions off the field than their quality on it. Former All-SEC linebacker Odell Thurman has failed multiple drug tests and will likely never set foot on the gridiron again.

Wide receiver Chris Henry has been booked on DUI and assault charges and released and re-signed by Cincy. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson was caught stealing electronics from a teammate and went on to become a failure in the Arena League.

That's quite the rap sheet, and unfortunately for Bengals fans everywhere, it's just the tip of the iceberg.

Even more so than Carson Palmer's infamous knee injury, legal problems have hurt this team. When talented youngsters are making stupid decisions off the field and are thus rendered ineligible to play, it's going to have a negative effect on the team's results and morale.

Things got so bad that the normally reserved Palmer gave a harsh analysis of the situation in January 2007.

"It has to stop," Palmer said hours after he heard the news (of cornerback Jonathan Joseph's arrest for possession of marijuana.) "If it doesn't stop, we're not going to have any fans left and I don't blame them. It's ridiculous. We can't get through a month without getting a guy arrested. It happens on another team and they're shocked and surprised to hear about it. With us, you hear about it and it doesn't surprise you and you just shake your head and say, 'Another one.' "

The latest member of the Bengals' chain gang is running back Cedric Benson.

Benson was arrested twice this past offseason. In May, police booked him for boating under the influence and resisting arrest. Little more than a month later, Benson was picked up again for driving under the influence.

Shortly after his last arrest, Bears GM Jerry Angelo released him and said, "Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate...As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions."

That sort of no-nonsense attitude would be nice to see from the Bengals brass.

I can't deny that Benson is a talented football player. He won the Doak Walker award as the nation's best collegiate running back in 2004 and left the University of Texas with 5,540 rushing yards, the sixth-highest career total of all-time in college football.

What puzzles me is why Cincinnati would take a risk on a guy with some very recent legal troubles. Granted, Benson was cleared of all charges, but Cincinnati still shouldn't be so eager to associate themselves with a guy who obviously made some bad decisions.

The Bengals need to be working to repair their image off the field while they work to improve the product on it. I don't see Benson as the type of player that fulfills both needs.

What I do see is a disturbing similarity between the current Bengals and the mid-to-late-1990s Dallas Cowboys (minus the wins, of course). Michael Irvin and Nate Newton were two of the most high-profile Cowboys that had brushes with law. Irvin was accused of cocaine possession and assault, while Newton was busted twice for transporting huge amounts of marijuana, with five weeks between the two arrests.

The arrests are where the similarities end, though.

Dallas is known as a haven for players looking for a second chance. Terrell Owens was given one after leaving Philadelphia on bad terms. Tank Johnson got a second chance after his very public legal troubles in Chicago. But these players seem to have made a genuine attempt to turn their lives around.

The Bengals, on the other hand, seem to be known as the team that is stupid enough to give anybody a second chance, whether or not they want to change. They gave Odell Thurman multiple chances, and he didn't change. Chris Henry was also arrested multiple times, and they decided to re-sign him this summer.

That's why I'm worried about this Benson signing; Cincy's recent track record with troubled players is awful.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that Benson would much rather win than party, but I'm still disturbed by things at Paul Brown Stadium.