Let the Cedric Benson era in Green Bay begin.
The Packers signed the veteran running back to a one-year deal Sunday, clearing a spot for him on the 90-man roster by placing undrafted rookie free agent tight end Eric Lair on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Benson, who turns 30 in December, spent the last four seasons in Cincinnati, registering 1,000-yard seasons each of the past three years. His best season for the Bengals was in 2009, when in 13 games he rushed for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns on 301 carries (4.2-yard average). The Packers’ next practice is Monday at 11:15 a.m.
The Packers were in dire need of running back help with starter James Starks suffering a turf toe injury in Thursday night’s preseason-opening loss at San Diego. Starks is “week-to-week,” according to coach Mike McCarthy. The Packers were already without two running backs, with No. 3 back Brandon Saine (hamstring) and undrafted rookie free agent Du’ane Bennett (knee) both sidelined with injuries sustained in training camp.
Those injuries left the Packers with just two healthy halfbacks: Alex Green, whose snaps in practice and games are limited because he’s coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered last October, and undrafted rookie free agent Marc Tyler.
In the 5-foot-11, 227-pound Benson, the Packers get a productive, tough, durable inside runner who will have to be more secure with the football when he carries it. The past two seasons, Benson fumbled 12 times, losing seven. The Packers running backs’ top two priorities, according to running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, are to protect the quarterback and protect the football, and neither have been Benson’s strengths.
For his career, Benson has played in 91 games (66 starts) and has rushed for 5,769 yards and 31 touchdowns on 1,529 carries (3.8-yard average). He entered the league with the Chicago Bears as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and rushed for 1,593 yards and 10 TDs on 420 carries (3.8-yard average) in three seasons in Chicago.
On July 17, Benson appeared on Sirius XM NFL Radio and in a lengthy interview with Adam Schein and Rich Gannon said the Packers and Oakland Raiders had been “checking” in on him but that nothing was imminent at the time.
"I think I can make any situation work," Benson said in the interview. "I'm not against anything. I just want to play ball. I just want to be on a team that wants to win football games…and if either one of those teams, if that's their main goal and their main focus, it will work. Those situations can work."
In the interview, Benson said he believed he was worth more than a one-year contract for the veterans minimum, which is $825,000 for seven- to nine-year veterans.
"I think it's only fair and only right on my behalf and on my team's behalf to be paid according to what I've achieved and what I'm capable of doing,” Benson said, adding that money would be a factor in his decision. "I'm 29 years old now. I'm in my prime now. I'm a man now. I'm a guy who performs in the fourth quarter. I was raised on being able to do everything."
Later in the interview, Benson became emotional when talking about his time with the Bears and Bengals. The Bears cut him in 2008 after he was arrested for allegedly operating a boat while intoxicated and shortly thereafter being arrested for DUI. He was suspended one game last season with the Bengals after a pair of misdemeanor assault arrests.
"Granted, I've had some run-ins off the field," he said, choking up, "but they're behind me now.
“There's going to come a point where I'm going to take what I get; I'm going to make the best of it, regardless of the situation."