Eno Benjamin

Saints Bump David Johnson To Active Roster

NOVEMBER 19: Johnson could soon see game action. Three days after adding him on a practice squad deal, the Saints are promoting the veteran running back to their active roster. Johnson has not played since last season.

NOVEMBER 16: Five months after visiting the Saints, David Johnson reached an agreement with the team. The former All-Pro running back will join New Orleans’ practice squad Wednesday, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets.

This move comes shortly after the Saints released Jordan Howard and Derrick Gore from their 16-man P-squad. Johnson, 30, met with the team in mid-June. While the sides could not agree on terms at that point, the former Cardinals and Texans back will settle for a practice squad spot months later.

Despite Johnson’s experience and somewhat distant past as an All-Pro-caliber producer, he was not connected to any other teams this offseason. He played out his contract with the Texans last season, after agreeing to rework it, and took his time in free agency. Johnson’s price was too high for the Saints in June, leading to him spending the season’s first half without a team.

The former third-round pick, however, has done very well for himself on the contract front. He parlayed a dominant 2016 slate (2,118 scrimmage yards, 20 touchdowns) into a three-year, $39MM Cardinals extension ahead of the 2018 season. The Cardinals included him in 2020’s DeAndre Hopkins trade, and while the Texans adjusted his deal, Johnson still locked in $4.25MM guaranteed in 2021.

Johnson has not come especially close to replicating that monster sophomore slate. A wrist injury knocked him out for almost all of the 2017 campaign, and by the time he returned in 2018, Bruce Arians had retired and the Cards suddenly sported the league’s worst offense. The Northern Iowa product missed eight games during his Texans stay, again becoming part of a rebuilding situation. After totaling 1,005 scrimmage yards as Houston’s featured back in 2020, Johnson took a backseat last season, when he finished with 453 yards on just 99 touches.

When Johnson visited the Saints this summer, speculation swirled about the team needing more insurance alongside Mark Ingram — Johnson’s ex-Texans teammate — against a potential Alvin Kamara suspension. Arrested in Las Vegas in connection with an alleged assault, Kamara has seen his hearing continually delayed. It has since been tabled again, according to WDSU’s Fletcher Mackel (on Twitter). The perennial Pro Bowl back is next scheduled to appear in court Jan. 23, seemingly putting him in the clear of a suspension sidelining him this season.

The Saints have been on the lookout for backs this week. Prior to this Johnson addition, they tried to claim Eno Benjamin on waivers, ESPN.com’s Field Yates tweets. They joined the Chiefs and Seahawks in doing so. Instead, Benjamin — a Cardinals draftee a month after the Johnson trade — will traverse the Johnson path, going from Arizona to Houston.

Texans Claim RB Eno Benjamin

Eno Benjamin did not make it past the top team in the current waiver hierarchy. The Texans submitted a claim for the former Cardinals running back, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

A former seventh-round pick, Benjamin served as James Conner‘s top backup in Arizona this season. The Cardinals’ decision to cut Benjamin caught the contributor by surprise, per ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss (on Twitter). He will now have another chance in Houston, which is taking on this rookie contract. That deal runs through 2023. The Chiefs and Seahawks attempted to claim Benjamin, according to GoPHNX.com’s Howard Balzer (on Twitter).

This move makes sense for Houston, which is still in the early stages of a lengthy rebuild. At 1-7-1, the Texans sit not only in pole position for next year’s No. 1 overall pick — though, it is early obviously — but they can win waiver battles by virtue of this record. The Texans have found a potential long-term starting back this year, in fourth-round rookie Dameon Pierce, but Benjamin can perhaps provide a complementary presence.

An Arizona State product, Benjamin did not play during his 2020 rookie slate but has seen action in the years since. The Cards turned to him to fill in for Conner during the recently re-signed starter’s injury hiatus. Benjamin has logged 70 carries for 299 yards and three touchdowns in 2022. The 5-foot-9 back has also contributed as an outlet receiver, catching 24 passes for 184 yards this season.

Since GM Nick Caserio‘s 2021 arrival, the Texans have cycled through a host of running backs. They added the likes of Rex Burkhead, Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram last year. Neither Lindsay nor Ingram finished the 2021 season with Houston, but the team extended Burkhead. This year, the Texans added Marlon Mack and Dare Ogunbowale to the mix. Mack did not make the team, but Pierce leapfrogged Houston’s veteran contingent and has launched an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.

Benjamin, 23, did not see his two quality Sun Devils seasons lead to much draft interest. He went 22nd in the 2020 draft. Still, he operated as a workhorse back at the Pac-12 program. Benjamin amassed 1,642 yards in 2018, ranking in the top five in Division I-FBS in rushing yards (fifth) and scrimmage yards (fourth, 1,905) as a sophomore. After another 1,000-yard slate as a junior, Benjamin followed the trend and bolted for the NFL rather than expose himself to another high-volume college workload. The Texans figure to still lean on Pierce (772 rushing yards; 4.7 per tote), but it will be somewhat interesting to see if Benjamin can carve out a role during the season’s second half.

Cardinals Release RB Eno Benjamin

In a very surprising move, the Cardinals are moving on from a notable member of their backfield. Arizona has informed Eno Benjamin that he is being released (Twitter link via ESPN’s Adam Schefter). The move is now official.

The 23-year-old had taken on a large role earlier in the season, with lead running back James Conner sidelined due to injury. Operating as the undisputed starter between Weeks 6 and 8, Benjamin totaled 151 rushing yards, showcasing his ability to serve as an effective compliment to a healthy Conner.

It also marked an increase in usage for the former seventh-rounder compared to his two previous years in the league. Benjamin did not see game action as a rookie, then received just 34 carries in 2021. Between the injuries to Conner and veteran backup Darrel Williams, though, Benjamin had logged a notable 43% snap share to date. Overall, he totaled 299 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 70 carries (4.3 yards per attempt), adding 184 yards on 24 catches.

Benjamin played just one offensive snap during yesterday’s win over the Rams, as Conner took on a workhorse load. Still, as noted by Schefter’s colleague Josh Weinfuss (on Twitter), the Arizona State alum is “surprised” by the decision to release him. Williams remains on IR, so this move leaves Arizona thin in the backfield.

Benjamin’s production while elevated to the lead role in particular should make him an intriguing add to any number of teams looking for depth at the RB spot. Nonetheless, the Cardinals currently sit 19th in the league with an average of 113 rushing yards per game, so a change aimed at increasing that total with Conner back to full health could be reasonable. By moving on from Benjamin, Arizona will see $895K in cap savings this year, and just over $1MM in 2023.

NFC West Notes: Benjamin, Robinson, Hawks

The Cardinals saw some shuffling in their RB room this offseason, with James Conner getting a new deal, but Chase Edmonds signing with the Dolphins in free agency. That left the No. 2 role up for grabs, making the role one of the roster battles to watch throughout the offseason.

Arizona added quality depth at the position by signing Darrel Williams late last month. The former Chief had by far the best season of his four-year career in 2021, posting more than 1,000 scrimmage yards and scoring eight total touchdowns. The small workload he handled in his three previous campaigns suggests he would be well-suited to a significant backup role behind Conner.

However, an in-house option is currently in the lead for that spot. ESPN’s Josh Weinfus reports that Eno Benjamin has “caught the eye of” head coach Kliff Kingsbury with his work during the spring. The 2020 seventh-rounder saw a limited role behind Conner and Edmonds last season, receiving just 34 carries. Weinfus nevertheless tabs Benjamin as the “frontrunner” for the No. 2 job heading into training camp, where he will compete with Williams to determine the final pecking order.

Here are some other notes from around the NFC West:

  • The Rams made a widely applauded move in free agency by signing wideout Allen Robinson as a replacement for Robert Woods and, potentially, Odell Beckham Jr. According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the team consulted Matt Stafford and Cooper Kupp before finalizing the deal, an interesting tidbit on their decision-making process and confirmation, as Breer writes, of how the pair “will be invested in seeing that Robinson succeeds” in Los Angeles.
  • The Seahawks have made a pair of front office hires, both in the analytics department. ESPN’s Seth Walder tweets that Seattle is bringing in Becca Erenbaum, who had most recently served as a basketball insights associate with the New York Knicks. She will have the title of senior football research analyst in her new home. The Seahawks are also hiring Peter Engler as a football research assistant. He previously worked with the Charlotte Thunder of the American Arena Football League and the 33rd Team, a front office-driven analysis website.

RB Conner Interested In Returning To Arizona

Running back James Conner‘s one-year tryout with the Cardinals worked out pretty well for both parties, and, according to Josh Alper of NBC Sports, Conner has expressed interest in returning to Arizona after helping the Cardinals to their first playoff berth in six years.

The third-round Pennsylvania-native spent his first four NFL seasons rushing for the in-state Steelers. His best season came his sophomore year when he had 1,470 yards from scrimmage along with 13 total touchdowns in only 13 games. His time in Pittsburgh saw him miss at least two games each season, missing six games in 2019.

While Conner still missed two games this year, the 18-week season allowed him to play in a career-high 15 games. He totaled 1,127 yards from scrimmage and finished third overall in the league in total touchdowns with 18, behind only Austin Ekeler (20) and Jonathan Taylor (20).

Arizona will see back up running back Chase Edmonds hit free agency, as well, after playing out the last year of his rookie contract. This leaves second-year back Eno Benjamin, out of nearby Arizona State, as the only running back remaining on the roster.

With the cupboard starting to run bare, the Cardinals most likely will be interested in bringing Conner back. Conner has expressed interest in seeing what free agency has to offer, and knowing the Cardinals are in need should leave him in a favorable bargaining position.

Cardinals Round Out Draft Class Deals

In addition to signing first-round pick Isaiah Simmons, the Cardinals finished out their draft class’ rookie-contract agreements Wednesday.

Arizona agreed to terms with third-round tackle Josh Jones, fourth-round defensive linemen Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence, sixth-round linebacker Evan Weaver and seventh-round running back Eno Benjamin. These are all four-year deals.

Jones profiles as the most interesting of these selections, having a path to being Arizona’s starting right tackle in the near future. The Houston blocker was considered a potential first-round talent or a player who would go off the board in Round 2.

Kliff Kingsbury admitted he was stunned to see Jones on the board in Round 3. The Cardinals re-signed Marcus Gilbert, but the longtime Steelers right tackle missed all of last season and much of the 2018 campaign due to injuries. Jones was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Cougars, but the Cards just re-signed longtime left tackle D.J. Humphries.

Benjamin, who played at Arizona State, joins a backfield that lost David Johnson this offseason. The Cards kept Kenyan Drake via the transition tag. Backup Chase Edmonds is signed through 2021, however. Both Fotu and Lawrence figure to compete for rotational spots on a Cards D-line that recently added 2019 Bills sack leader Jordan Phillips.

Here is the Cards’ 2020 draft class:

1-8: Isaiah Simmons, LB (Clemson)
3-72: Josh Jones, T (Houston)
4-114: Leki Fotu, DT (Utah)
4-131: Rashard Lawrence, DT (LSU)
6-202: Evan Weaver, LB (Cal)
7-222: Eno Benjamin, RB (Arizona State)