Last season, Bears' GM Jerry Angelo, like any umpire worth his salt, allowed big Tank Johnson three chances: an arrest for illegally possessing a handgun whilst visiting a nightclub in downtown Chicago, one; resisting arrest after allegedly hassling a police officer as he attempted to distribute a ticket to Johnson's limo driver as he left yet another downtown nightclub, two; illegally keeping six loaded firearms, among them two assault rifles, in his suburban Illinois home, steeeeeeee-hah three!
Oh, Tank. With every passing arrest, bleary-eyed mugshot, and consequential headline, the Bears' team idiot solidified his status as the dunce-cap wearing member of the team and league; we moaned, we groaned, we glumly shook our heads, knowing poor George Halas spun 360s in his grave at the mere thought of this thug ever donning his majestic blue and oranges. Yet, after an unnecessarily long and doubt-filled -- "Are we ever gonna get rid of this guy?!" -- wait, Angelo cut the chord, and the Bears Faithful bid the hulking, cumbersome galoot a most insincere farewell.
Things were simple back then. Not so, nowadays.
This time around, it's Cedric Benson making waves for all the wrong reasons. It is he -- the well-known, and perpetually frustrating runningback, and not a face-less, relatively unknown defensive lineman -- with the recurring, unflattering mugshots and bi-weekly arrest stories, most recent among them a drunk driving arrest in Austin, Texas early yesterday morning. And it's been significantly tougher to swallow.See, with Tank, the disconcerting arrests and incessant run-ins with the law were really hurting the team. Johnson's moronic decisions were leaving poor Love no other options than to deactivate or bench him. With Johnson off the field, the Bears' defensive line became considerably less formidable -- he recorded 5 sacks in '05 and 3.5 in '06, along with 25 and 26 tackles in each of those seasons respectively. Johnson was (and still is) an above average defensive lineman, and his arrest-induced absence was the ugly bruise on the defensive line's apple -- not to mention an irritating and unnecessary distraction.
Back when Tank was arrested seemingly every other week, our fury was focused on Tank. We directed our frustrations towards him, wondering with every passing headline: "Does this guy know how to say no? Get him off the team already!" It was easy to hate Tank. His idiocy was utterly incomprehensible; on a level different from any other sports-related gang-banger we, as a city, had come across since the Rodman days. Much like Rodman and his multi-colored 'fro, Tank simply could not figure when enough was enough, and he paid dearly: his repeated late night escapades and shocking lack of regard for common laws or run-of-the-mill team rules will leave an indeblible smudge on his NFL image -- one no number of future Pro Bowls or successful seasons under Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys will remove.
So you see, things were simple. Tank would step -- nay, leap -- over the clearly defined line once again, we'd groan and roll our eyes, knowing Lovie had no choice but to bench him, and that his absence would severely handicap the team and the otherwise stout defensive line. Tank was to blame, and applying said blame wasn't so difficult -- the media's less-than-glowing intepretations of his situation did little to help, too. At long last, when Tank helplessly flailed on his third strike, the sun shone upon our dear Windy City once again. Babies grinned, children giggled, grown men frolicked in the green grass, happy their team had rid itself of such an inconceivably moronic hindrance. (Of course, no one enjoyed the fact that Tank couldn't keep his hands out of the cookie jar -- as I may have mistakenly implied. I'm only saying it was a simpler process. We good?)
Simple enough, right? Talented player repeatedly screws up, we loathe talented player for continually hurting team, team does right thing and shows talented player the door.
But then there was Ced.
Allegedly, on May 5, Benson was under the influence while driving his 30-foot boat in Lake Travis near Austin, and -- again, allegedly -- forcefully resisted arrest, and pepper spray was necessary to subdue him. Benson has vehemently denied both charges, and will fight them in court on June 30.
A showering of support flowed from the Bears camp following this unfortunate arrest/mugshot/headline combo. Bears players and coaches rightfully supported their teammate, and gave Benson the benefit of the doubt.
"If he said he was innocent, he's damn well innocent, right?"
This mindset leaked to the media, fans, and -- it pains me to admit it, seeing as I may be Benson's #1 detractor -- to myself as well. I believed Benson. I gave him a free pass. If he was so fervently opposed to what the officers had charged, he had to be innocent, correct? I mean, there's just no way he flat-out lied to such an impossible degree, right? So, while I -- and, I believe, the rest of Bears Nation -- was rightfully upset with Benson for allowing himself to be placed in such a potentially devastating situation, and while I, deep down, wished he would be found guilty and that Angelo would somehow, unexpectedly, mercifully ax him and spare the fans another season of his horrifying, nasuea-inducing time in the backfield, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I believed him.
Yesterday morning, however, my doubts resurfaced. Two arrests in a month, Ceddy boy? That halo you convinced us was hovering peacefully above your corn-rowed head doesn't seem so believable anymore.
Ced's in hot water, that much is for sure; conversely, his status as the team's first-string back is most certainly up in the air. Angelo's neutral comments reminiscent of Tank's 1st and 2nd slip-ups -- ".... it's unfortunate. We will deal with it when we know everything" -- are worrisome. You can't blame him for his cautious approach, -- especially because the information coming out of Austin is a discombobulated and two-sided mix -- although, after a second arrest in five weeks, you would certainly hope to see less of a Hillary Clinton, "Words are coming out of my mouth, but I'm not really saying much," nondeclarative response, and more of a Michael Savage, inflammatory, "It doesn't look good, buddy boy!" statement. But we can't be choosers. You'd like to see a little more opinion, but Angelo is going to wait -- and Benson's fate hangs precariously in the balance.
And that's the problem; this is where Benson's situation differs from Tank's. With Tank, it was simple -- I knew where to direct my frustrations, I knew exactly where to focus my anger. With Benson, well...
Tank -- a quality, otherwise helpful player -- was acting like an idiot, and he paid the price.
Benson -- a horribly unpopular, overpaid, and unproductive player -- is acting like an idiot, and .... nothing.
The difference lies here: the Bears front office and I shared a mutual frustration over Tank, and their course of action (cutting him) was rather similar to what mine would have been. This time around, Angelo and I disagree; I'd have cut Benson already -- salary and all.
Again, I don't blame Angelo in the slightest for waiting it out, and getting his hands on all the information he can before making his decision. Quite simply, I don't like the fact that instead of being frustrated with Benson alone, I'm frustrated with the team and their repeated support of Benson. I'll hold nothing back: I'd like Benson gone, and ASAP would be nice.
On June 22 of last year, Tank Johnson was pulled over for speeding. It was determined he was driving under the influence to, what the officer called, "the slightest degree." Whether or not Johnson was, in fact, drunk mattered little to Angelo, and Johnson was sent packing only days later. It was later discovred Johnson was under the legal limit.
Right now, we know not if Benson was, in fact, drunk. Just like with Tank, the breathalyzer results should matter little. Even without knowing whether Cedric was drunk or not, our knowledge remains extensive: we know Benson, the 4th pick in the 2005 Draft, has cemented his status as one of the worst Bears draft busts in history, chalking his name alongside Cade McNown and Curtis Enis in the dubious record books; we know Benson has produced little in his time as a Bear (674 yards, 3.4 a carry, and four touchdowns in 11 games as the starter this season); we know Benson has a sour attitude, has been known to quarrel with teammates, is a sullen lockeroom character, and rarely publicly owns the in-game mistakes he is accustomed to making; we now also know he's an alleged crook, boating and forcefully resisting police control while under the influence, and only a few weeks later, driving past curfew while, again, under the influence.
There will no doubt be a penalty for Benson; I'm just worried it won't be harsh enough. I -- along with, it's fair to assume, a good number of Bear fans -- have grown sick of watching Benson clumsily stumble into an offensive lineman only two yards from scrimmage and harmlessly fall to the turf, not making what anyone would call an "athletic move" in an attempt to scrap for further yards. I'm sick of saying, "The next time Ced breaks a tackle, it'll be the first!" I'm sick of 2nd & 12, courtesy of another backwards Benson carry. I'm sick of removing our first string back on third downs because he can't pass-block worth a damn. I'm sick of hearing Lovie call his team a "Run first offense," only to glumly shake my head, knowing the "run" aspect of said offense simply cannot and will not ever produce.
I'm sick of the team handing Benson as many second chances as Grossman does handoffs, only to see him do just as little -- if not less -- with those second chances.
Jerry, I know you're waiting. I know you don't want to jump to conclusions. I know it's absolutely fair to assume -- although it's entirely unlikely -- Benson was innocent in both cases. In spite of all that, think back to Tank Johnson, and consider of the potential benefits your team -- and it's running game -- will reap. It's time, Jer, to slam down the law; to punish big #32.
Does that mean cut him? Perhaps. On a less radical scale, does that mean opening the position, giving the eager Garrett Wolfe and the hot-shot rook Matt Forte an equal chance in training camp? Almost certainly -- at least, one would hope.
Frustrating -- to an incalculable degree -- an entire fanbase and coaching staff, and failing to justify being picked 4th overall in the NFL Draft, one; boating while drunk, and, furthermore, forcefully resisting arrest, two; yesterday morning's escapade..
I can only hope.