GREEN BAY, Wis. - Just last week, Cedric Benson was talking about his hope that he'd found a football home with the Green Bay Packers.
Now, the soon-to-be 30-year-old running back's season is in jeopardy – and, with a one-year, minimum-salary contract, his future in question – after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during Sunday's loss at Indianapolis.
The Lisfranc is a joint at the top of the foot that connects multiple small bones together. In Benson's case, he either sprained the joint or fractured one or more of those small bones. Recovery time depends on whether there is a dislocation or fracture, and whether surgery – including the insertion of screws into the foot – is necessary.
ESPN's Adam Schefter, citing sources, reported at halftime of the Monday Night Football game between the Houston Texans and New York Jets that Benson had suffered the dreaded Lisfranc injury, saying he will be sidelined for at least eight weeks and could be done for the year if surgery is necessary. An NFL source confirmed that Benson indeed suffered a Lisfranc injury but said no long-term decision had been made on whether Benson's season is over.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy had said earlier in the day that he had not spoken with team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie or general manager Ted Thompson about the severity of the injury, saying only that Benson would not play next Sunday night against the Texans.
When asked specifically at 3:30 Monday afternoon if Benson would be out awhile, McCarthy replied: "What's going on with Cedric, he had initial work done this morning and Dr. McKenzie asked for more work this afternoon. I saw Cedric there before the team meeting and Dr. McKenzie had to go to surgery, and Ted and I have not discussed the later testing that's gone on. But he clearly won't be available this week."
Later in the press conference, McCarthy did strike a foreboding tone about Benson while talking about how his injury impacted the team's offensive game plan against the Colts.
"I thought Cedric was really coming on the last couple weeks, I was excited about him, what he brings to the table," McCarthy said. "Now, our younger backs will have to give us that because we need the run game. It's important. I'm not interested in throwing it 50 times a game. So we just need to be more consistent."
On Aug. 12, Benson signed a one-year deal worth the NFL seven-year veteran minimum of $825,000 that also contained no incentives and was a split contract, meaning that if Benson landed on injured reserve, he'd only collect $393,000 instead of his full base salary.
Benson had carried 71 times for 248 yards and caught 14 passes for 97 more in five games. He arrived in Green Bay having carried the ball 1,529 times and caught 106 passes in regular season play after carrying the ball 1,112 times with 69 receptions in college at Texas, meaning the injury occurred on his 2,901st touch. Set to turn 30 in December, this could be it for him.
The injury occurred when Benson caught a pass over the middle from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Colts linebacker Moise Fokou dove to tackle him from behind, landing on Benson's heel. Benson left Lucas Oil Stadium in a walking boot but didn't seem to think the injury was as serious as it's turned out to be.
"I had my foot planted in the ground and (Fokou) landed on my heel and it twisted ligaments in my foot," said Benson, who had touched the ball on nine of the Packers' first 17 offensive plays. "It's really tender right now. They're going to do further checkups in the morning, but I feel good."
With Benson out, the Packers have three running backs – former starter James Starks, second-year man Alex Green and Brandon Saine – along with fullback John Kuhn remaining on the roster. Starks hasn't played since suffering a turf toe injury in the Aug. 9 preseason opener at San Diego – one day before Benson agreed to terms with the Packers – but was not listed on the injury report in advance of Sunday's game after practicing in full all week.
Starks has his own long injury history, of course, having missed his senior season at the University of Buffalo with a shoulder injury, missed the first half of his rookie season in 2010 with a torn hamstring and having been hampered by knee and ankle injuries at the end of last season before the toe injury this year.
"Right now, I'm just trying to get better – get healthier, get stronger, get faster, start making more cuts right and when I get another opportunity, whenever that comes, I'll be ready for it," Starks said last week. "That's my job."
Green carried eight times for 14 yards after Benson's injury but broke off a 41-yard run on his ninth carry, setting up the Packers' go-ahead touchdown with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter.
"Alex did some good things, and there's some things he'll definitely learn from. He obviously had the big run, did a great job there," McCarthy said. "But there's some protection opportunities that we need to clean up and the course of certain runs. So, a young guy that took advantage of an opportunity and this will be an opportunity for him and James and Brandon to play this week against Houston."
The news wasn't as grim on defensive tackle B.J. Raji (ankle) and tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder), both of whom McCarthy said have "a chance" to play this week.
But the story of the day was Benson, who had been very durable before Sunday's injury. Now, no one knows what his future holds.
"I was just talking about it a couple weeks ago (with some teammates). This is my eighth season and third team. I've had to find success without finding a home," Benson said last week. "I've had to go into new systems and make it work and find success. It's been a crazy career for me thus far. But I'm looking forward to possibly the chance to be somewhere where they want me."