Benson says Bears tried to blackball him

By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Cedric Benson believes the Chicago Bears did all they could to prevent him from signing with another team.

Released in June 2008 after two alcohol-related arrests, Benson will come face to face with his former team when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Bears on Sunday. Although he insisted he's not out for revenge and won't try to send a message, Benson clearly has some bad feelings for the Bears.

"I heard all the rumors that were said coming out of Chicago," Benson said. "Even the Bengals told me all the things, that they would call and inquire about me and get nothing but negative things. Just that I didn't work hard, that I was I guess a prima donna or I didn't work hard on the field, just wasn't focused, just anything negative that they could say, it was said. I'm sure that contributed largely to me not getting picked up right away."

Bears coach Lovie Smith insisted, "He was not blackballed by anyone in our organization."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Smith even gave a good review of the running back, although Benson said he was in the minority. He appreciated Smith's endorsement, but said most of the coaches did not support him. He wasn't particularly popular with his teammates, either, and he insisted the Bears launched a smear campaign after he was released.

Benson believes that's why he remained unemployed until the Bengals signed him last October.

Now, he's one of the league's leading rushers, quite a turnaround for someone who fizzled in Chicago after being drafted fourth overall in 2005. Instead of taking his place alongside Walter Payton and Gale Sayers, Benson rubbed teammates the wrong way and never fit in with the Bears.

Why?

"Some questions that you all ask are very interesting because I don't have the answers," Benson said. "I think there was, once upon a time, where I would like to have known the answer. But now it kind of doesn't really matter anymore. But I couldn't pinpoint it. I remember there being a lot of talk about the holdout and things like that, but that's quite ridiculous in this business because there are holdouts involved. It's not just football, there's the business of contracts involved. I'm sure there was once upon a time where many players on that team had a holdout or something along those lines."