CINCINNATI -- Start the countdown clock. BenJarvus Green-Ellis' days with the Bengals are officially numbered.
There's no idea exactly how much time he could have left. It could be days, weeks, months or even another year.
This, however, is clear. With the Bengals' selection of Jeremy Hill in the second round of the draft Friday night, a warning shot has been fired.
Coaches could barely hide their glee when they met with reporters moments after Hill was selected, and rightfully so. Hill's selection gave them a big, bruising, physical runner who had limited carries as part of a multiple-back system in college.
It describes Green-Ellis' role in Cincinnati's offense to a tee.
"Right now there is," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "My biggest thing is, again, whoever we put on this team, my job is to coach. At the end of the day, we have some very competitive guys in that group. Nobody's going to shy away from anything. That's what you want. At the end of the day, we have to line up and we're going to play the best players. That's the name of this business."
Production is at the center of concerns that Green-Ellis might be in his last days as a Bengal. After rushing for nearly 1,100 yards in 2012, he had only 756 in 2013. A large part of the drop-off had to do with the fact that Green-Ellis was sharing more carries with Bernard. But that doesn't explain his low rushing average. The quality of Green-Ellis' carries was poor a year ago, as he gained just 3.4 yards per carry. The year before, he averaged 3.9. In 2010, arguably his best season, Green-Ellis averaged 4.4 yards on 229 carries.
It does bear pointing out that in the Bengals' playoff loss in January, Green-Ellis was running like a man on a mission. He compiled a 5.2 yards per carry average on his eight carries. After coming out and running early in the game, the Bengals pulled back on the run-game plans. His final two rushes of the game came on the first two plays of the second half.
Under Jackson, such low second-half rushing numbers shouldn't rear their ugly heads again, playoffs or otherwise. That's especially the case when you consider the Bengals are bringing in a young, fresh-legged ballcarrier who was effusively praised for his vision, speed, agility, pass-catching skills and ability to create his own holes.
"You have to be able to do that as a runner. Everything's not going to be blocked perfectly, everything's not going to show up right," Jackson said, speaking about Hill. "You have to be able to make plays. That's what he demonstrated. You don't make 1,401 yards in the SEC by just running through gaping holes. This guy has it and hopefully he'll come here and exhibit what he's shown in college football."
Team finances are another reason the 28-year-old Green-Ellis might want to be concerned about his future now that Hill is in Cincinnati. With the Bengals trying hard to extend quarterback Andy Dalton and sending clear messages through this draft that they believe the embattled signal-caller is the long-term face of their franchise, cutting Green-Ellis makes fiscal sense. Through three rounds the Bengals haven't selected a quarterback. That seems a clear sign that they aren't looking to groom a possible Dalton replacement.
The Bengals entered the draft with more than $24.2 million left in cap space for 2014, the third-highest amount in the league. A significant chunk of that money, possibly $17-$18 million could go to Dalton, who is trying to get a new deal that could pay him close to the $20 million some of the game's most elite quarterbacks currently receive. Another sizable chunk of that $24.2 million could go to linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who also is negotiations for a longer term deal. Add in the compensation for the draft picks and that $24.2 million evaporates quickly.
If the Bengals were to cut Green-Ellis, they would have a cap savings of $2.5 million, giving them just a little extra to play with as they try to make other offseason moves.