The Green Bay Packers took a swing in 2012 NFL free agency, signing 30-year-old running back Cedric Benson to a fairly substantial contract ($825,000) with the hope that he could add a punch out of their backfield.
Investing in ball-carriers with seven years of experience is typically considered taboo. Running backs have some of the shortest shelf lives in the NFL, and Benson arrived in Green Bay with more than 1,500 career carries. The Packers were rolling the dice on his age-29 season with the Cincinnati Bengals, wherein he cleared 1,100 yards from scrimmage, including 1,067 on the ground, and racked up six touchdowns.
Even in the context of this gamble, it was a borderline no-brainer move. The Packers employed a hodgepodge of talent in the backfield, most notably James Starks and Alex Green. Benson afforded them certain optionality they could use to leverage the play option around franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
But the move never worked out. Benson suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his foot five games into the season and was deemed out for the year. He would never suit up in the NFL regular season again.
It’s a wonder that the Packers team finished 11-5 and won a playoff game at all. Injuries ripped through their backfield, hitting just about everyone. Green led the team in carries, with just 135. Three running backs, including Benson, churned through 70 carries and five finished with more than 30.
Lesser issues have doomed better teams. The Packers just so happened to have one of the greatest playmakers in NFL history under center to get them by. They finished fifth in points per game despite all the instability in the backfield.
Knowing what we know now, some might be inclined to call the Benson signing a mistake. It doesn’t make sense to go that far. Serious injuries are both parts of the game and unpredictable. Benson wasn’t ineffective because he was older or run down; he was averaging an adequate 3.5 yards per carrying before his injury. He still had football left in the tank.
Signing him to help diversify the backfield was a winning decision. Had he stayed healthy, the Packers would’ve had another sturdy red zone option. Maybe they’re even more dangerous in the playoffs. We can’t be sure.
We can, however, be certain of one thing: His tenure in Green Bay is one of the potential lost to injury, not a fundamental failure.