Sport: Somers: What happened between Eno Benjamin and Arizona Cardinals could have been avoided

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This Cardinals season hasn’t been stocked with many positive stories, which made Eno Benjamin’s stand out like a lone book on a shelf.

Oct 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, U.S.; Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) celebrates his touchdown run with guard Justin Pugh (67) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium. © Michael Chow/The Republic Oct 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, U.S.; Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) celebrates his touchdown run with guard Justin Pugh (67) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium.

But that story ended Monday when the Cardinals announced they had released the former Arizona State running back. It was a surprising move, at least until pieces of the back story began to leak.

Benjamin played just one offensive snap in Sunday’s victory over the Rams, and he didn’t hide his displeasure at his diminished role, per sources. That included getting into a confrontation with an assistant coach after the game.

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It was enough for the Cardinals to move on from a player they had been raving about since last spring. When the season started, we could see why. Benjamin was a capable backup to James Conner, and there wasn’t a decline when he started three games while Conner was hurt.

Benjamin rushed for 92 yards in a victory over the Saints, and overall averaged 4.3 yards a carry, a half-yard more than Conner.

So what changed?

James Conner #6 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on November 13, 2022, in Inglewood, California. © Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images James Conner #6 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on November 13, 2022, in Inglewood, California.

Conner, for one. He was fully recovered from an injury to his ribs and was ready to reassume a full-time role last week, coach Kliff Kingsbury said. Conner gained 69 yards on 21 carries, a 3.3-yard average, but he scored two touchdowns.

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“I thought he played at a high level and got better as the game went on,” Kingsbury said.

That left Benjamin on the sideline, apparently fuming.

I get. It’s a natural reaction. It’s hard to go from playing 27 percent of the snaps the week before to 1.47 percent.

But it’s also a player’s job to accept it and to go in the game when asked, even if it’s for only one play. Complaints to the boss should come well after the game and in private, not on the sideline, or in a locker room that was finally full of smiles.

Benjamin reportedly was surprised by his release. When asked about a confrontation between Benjamin and an assistant coach after the game, Benjamin’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, replied: “I’m not aware of that. I don’t believe that is accurate.”

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It doesn’t seem to jibe with the player who became a fan favorite because of his ties to ASU and his ascension on the Cardinals' depth chart this year. But we all have moments in our lives that we wish we had handled better.

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News of Benjamin’s release broke less than an hour after Kingsbury’s press conference on Monday ended, and he’s not scheduled to meet with media again until Wednesday. It’s not likely he’s going to go into detail about why Benjamin is now an ex-Cardinal.

But it’s clear the Cardinals cut Benjamin for a reason that had nothing to do with his performance on the field. With Darrel Williams on injured reserve, they aren’t awash in running backs. Rookie Keontay Ingram hasn’t played much, although the Cardinals do have two backs on the practice squad with some experience: Corey Clement and Ty’Son Williams.

Until this week, Conner and Benjamin were clearly the top two backs.

Conner signed a three-year, $21 million deal last off-season, $13.5 million of which is guaranteed. Benjamin, making $900,000 this year, was never going to replace Conner, but he was proving to be a solid NFL player.

Maybe Wednesday's episode of "Hard Knocks In Season: The Arizona Cardinals" will provide more details about what led to Benjamin's departure, but I would be surprised, given the team has some editorial control.

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Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) runs with the ball against the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. © Brad Rempel, Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin (26) runs with the ball against the Minnesota Vikings in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Rosenhaus, meanwhile, was confident Benjamin will have no problem finding employment. And he was right — Houston claimed him on waivers on Tuesday, per reports.

Practically nothing has been easy when it comes to playing for the Cardinals this season. There have been a lot of injuries. Few people have played well, and Kingsbury and his staff have had trouble giving players something that works.

Several players have ping-ponged between starting one week and barely playing the next. It’s happened to linebacker Isaiah Simmons, receiver A.J. Green and receiver Greg Dortch. All are still on the team, and Benjamin is not. That suggests Benjamin could have handled his disappointment last Sunday better.

That’s too bad because it felt like the Cardinals were the perfect fit for Benjamin. And then they weren’t. Just like that.

More from Somers: It's not controversial. If Kyler Murray is healthy he should start

Reach Kent Somers at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Monday and Friday at 7:30 a.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Somers: What happened between Eno Benjamin and Arizona Cardinals could have been avoided

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