LAKE FOREST, Ill. —The Chicago Bears thought Cedric Benson would be their next great running back. He’ll instead go down as one of their biggest disappointments.
The Bears waived Benson on Monday after his second alcohol-related arrest in a month, ending a rocky three-season tenure in which he failed to live up to expectations after starring at Texas.
“Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate,” general manager Jerry Angelo said in a statement. “As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions.”
The troubled running back, who didn’t participate in organized team activities Monday after telling the Chicago Tribune he would, issued an apology through sports attorney David Cornwell while maintaining his innocence.
“I apologize for making the poor decision to drink and drive during the early morning of Saturday, June 7th,” Benson said in a statement. “Given the incident last month, it was a particularly bad decision. I have no excuse for this lack of judgment. Though I strongly believe that I am not guilty of any crime, I realize that the public and the Bears organization hold me to higher standard. Though my local attorneys will continue to work hard to prove my innocence, I confess to using poor judgment. Please accept my deepest apology.”
The Bears had already made it clear they were losing patience with Benson when they drafted Tulane’s Matt Forte in the second round in April. Three ineffective, injury-plagued years during which Benson at times annoyed teammates with blunt comments left management looking for another running back. And that was before the recent brushes with the law.
“When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team,” Angelo said. “Those who fail to understand the importance of ‘team’ will not play for the Chicago Bears.”
Benson’s rocky relationship with the Bears took a turn for the worse when he was arrested on a drunken driving charge in Austin, Texas, early Saturday after failing a field sobriety test. The former first-round draft pick was released on bond.
He was also arrested May 5 and charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest on a lake near Austin. Both cases are pending.
Benson’s agent Eugene Parker did not return calls seeking comment, but his attorney, Sam Bassett in Austin, said Monday he was disappointed the Bears waived Benson so quickly. Although Bassett said he believes Benson to be innocent of DWI, “he knows he made a mistake going out drinking and driving.”
Bassett said Saturday that the former Texas star had a few drinks with dinner, but didn’t think he was intoxicated, although he acknowledged his client would “probably be in trouble with his team.”
Benson was pulled over for running a red light and refused to take a breath test or provide blood samples Saturday, Austin police spokeswoman Veneza Aguinaga said.
Bassett, however, said Benson thought the light was yellow when he went through around 2 a.m. but stopped immediately when police appeared, and he added that Benson told him he wasn’t speeding or driving recklessly.
Bassett also said Benson offered to provide police a blood sample for testing and believes video of the arrest will show his client did well in the field sobriety test, although he hasn’t seen it yet.
Texas law allows a driver to take a blood or breath test for alcohol content, Bassett said. When Benson offered to take a blood test, the arresting officer told him he’d have to take a breath test, which Benson refused, Bassett said.
Bassett said he has requested a copy of Benson’s arrest videotape and hoped to watch it with a representative of the NFL and or the Bears, as early as this week.
“They pulled the trigger early,” Bassett said of the Bears. “It’s a disappointment to me.”
A few promising glimpses aside, Benson hasn’t lived up to the hype that accompanied him to the NFL when the Bears took him with the fourth pick in 2005. He has 1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 3.8 yards a carry for the Bears after running for more than 5,500 yards and 64 touchdowns at Texas.
Benson also has a June 30 court date for the May arrest while operating a 30-foot boat on Lake Travis—an incident in which authorities used pepper spray to subdue him. No court date had been set for the latest incident as of Monday afternoon.
With Benson gone, Forte has a big opportunity.
“I’m not going to sit here and doubt myself or my talent,” Forte said before Benson was waived. “I believe that I can come in and play.”