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Benson's latest legal issue could hurt his earning potential

The most important thing to have in any type of negotiation is leverage. Free-agent running back Cedric Benson allegedly just punched his down the tubes.

Benson's weekend arrest for misdemeanor assault for allegedly beating a former roommate at 5 a.m. Sunday comes roughly a week or so away from free agency. His return to Cincinnati was viewed as a slam dunk. It still could be, but at a lesser price.

Benson, who also was arrested last year for supposedly getting into a fight and was released by the Chicago Bears in 2008 after two alcohol-related arrests, could face punishment from the judicial system, NFL or whatever team signs him. Cincinnati typically doesn't have issues harboring players with legal or character problems, in part because they've devalued themselves. Even still, Benson just cost himself at the negotiating table.

Timing is everything and Benson picked the wrong time to do the wrong thing.

If he tries to play hardball, Cincinnati can simply go elsewhere. Benson won't have as many options as the Bengals do. Besides DeAngelo Williams, there's Clinton Portis, Jason Snelling, Michael Bush, Ronnie Brown and a slew of others who could take advantage of the Bengals' supposed recommitment to running the ball.

Unless details emerge that management and ownership in Cincinnati can't tolerate, the Benson-Bengals reunion still seems likely. However, Cincinnati must still examine free-agent options as insurance. In fact, it's yet to be known if Benson sustained any injuries. A broken hand or finger -- or worse -- could be problematic, or even a possible deterrent.

Cincinnati knows that Benson could be a vital cog to its offense, which likely will be run by rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. A running game is going to be important to protect Dalton and set up the play-action passing game. Bernard Scott is a nice backup who could do okay as a part-time starter, but a banger like Benson is needed to carry the load in this system.

Benson has said he wants to return to the Bengals -- other players, like quarterback Carson Palmer, want out -- and players' affinity for that franchise tends to work in their favor. Although Benson is free to sign elsewhere, he worked out with the Bengals all offseason, learning new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's offense, of which he hopes to be a focal point.

Benson is the second Bengals player to be arrested recently. The other is cornerback Adam "Formerly known as Pacman" Jones. Jones was arrested for supposedly being uncooperative and too abrasive to police; a far lesser charge than Benson's violent hand throwing.

The fact that these incidents occurred at a time when the NFL and NFL Players Association are so close to reaching an agreement to put football back in business shows a bad sense of judgment. The fact that they happened at all shows an even worse sense of maturity, regardless of the circumstances. These are players with histories who have to watch how they carry themselves.

They didn't and they could pay the price, Jones with his playing career, Benson at the negotiating table.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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