SportsCarolina Monthly

The Rundown – Why the Panthers shipped Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo

Benjamin

Well, that was a bit of a shock. 

Or was it? 

On Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers and interim General Manager Marty Hurney surprised the Panthers fanbase by shipping off on again/off again fan favorite WR Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills for a 2018 3rd Round and 7th Round Pick. 

First reaction? Panic. Literally my Facebook timeline exploded with emotional outbursts for the first hour after the trade was announced. Some of the classic lines I saw in the first hour…

“So, so pissed right now!!”

“So sad to see how they treated KB!”

“We couldnt trade Hurney instead?”

“Why didnt we trade Stewart for Landry out of Miami?”

“This makes NO SENSE. Fire Hurney, Rivera…trade Cam..lets just start over…”

“I HATE THIS TEAM!!”

 

No one can ever claim that Carolina Panthers fans aren’t emotionally attached to their team. Maybe a bit too much at times. 

What was I doing when the news broke? I was in my car driving home from work…I decided to call into “One on One with the Schass” the local sports talk radio show that airs 3-6pm on WSJS Sports hosted by Kyle Schassburger in the Heart of North Carolina (Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem). I didn’t know what I was going to say, I was bit confused…but I felt like I needed to call anyway. I wanted to hear myself explain this insanity. 

“Hey Desmond, hows it going buddy?” Kyle said after I dialed in.

“Hey Kyle…wanted to call in and talk about this Benjamin trade that just went down….” I commented. 

Over the next 2 minutes over the air, I proceeded to blurt out about 5 reasons why the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin, former 1st round pick, former 1000 yard receiver, now currently #1 WR for the Buffalo Bills. I actually felt better after saying it out loud. If you’re a Panther fan…youre going to feel better after reading this. I promise. 

What were those five things I mentioned over the air during that brief call in? Glad you asked…

Reasons why Kelvin Benjamin was traded to the Buffalo Bills…

1.The dude simply can’t separate from Cornerbacks.

Back in 2014 the Carolina Panthers made WR Kelvin Benjamin the 28th pick of the draft. He would be the heir apparent to recently cut and fan favorite WR Steve Smith. The team was turning the keys over to Cam Newton and he needed a new #1 target. 

I went back to look at the draft analysis for Benjamin. Here is an excerpt from NFL Network’s Nolan Nawrocki on Benjamin’s weaknesses heading into the draft…

WEAKNESSES Lacks elite, top-end speed and many catches are contested. Hand use could improve releasing vs. tight, press coverage. Overly grabby. Is not yet a nuanced route runner and does not sink his hips and pop in and out of his breaks. Does not shake many defenders after the catch. Will make the easy concentration drop and focus could stand to improve at the break point (three drops vs. Florida). Seeks to run before securing the ball and double-catches more than he should. Blocking effort/sustainability has room to improve on the move. Has a 32 1/2-inch vertical jump and recorded the slowest 60-yard shuttle time (12.10 seconds) of any receiver at the combine.

Benjamin couldn’t really run away from anyone, relying on his brute strength and size to make just enough room to catch balls. Dude does have an insane catch radius. But is this analysis that far off from what we’ve seen the past 3 seasons? Id say its proven to be spot on. 

Many times we saw ricochet bullets from Cam Newton deflected into the air and caught by the other team due to focusing on Benjamin and trying to get him in the game. The interception vs Chicago that resulted in a 75+ yard Return TD? A ricochet off of Benjamin and the defender, who Benjamin was wearing like a light polo jacket, across the middle of the field….into the arms of a Bears defender. 

Benjamin was slower to begin with running the slowest 60 yard shuttle time of any receiver at the 2014 combine. And THEN he blew out his ACL in training camp in the beginning of 2015…which led to….

2. Panthers have actually played BETTER with Benjamin not on the field.

I went back and looked at the Panthers record with Benjamin suited up and without since 2014 when we drafted him. The results were shocking. From 2014-17….

With Benjamin: 19-22-1 record.

Without Benjamin: 17-2

Thats right. Thats a big enough sample size to realize two things. We are average with Benjamin on the field. We are damn near unstoppable without him. 

Granted things have changed since the year Benjamin went out. But not a lot. We don’t have Ted Ginn, a burner WR on the other side to take the top off of a defense. Ginn left for a more prominent role in New Orleans last offseason.  That role, however, is now filled potentially by recent 2nd round draft pick WR Curtis Samuel, a younger version of Ginn. The offensive line on paper is better than 2015. The Panthers added RB Christian McCaffrey to spice up the offense but he hasn’t been able to find room to run so far this season. More importantly, we had someone on the roster that played Benjamin’s “X” position better than Benjamin could. 

 

3. Devin Funchess is a more complete Wide Receiver

Funchess, a 2nd round pick in 2015 by the Panthers, got opportunities his rookie year when Benjamin went down with a torn ACL in training camp. Funchess can reportedly play all three WR positions. Benjamin had been slotted into the “X” or #1 WR position since being drafted. Funchess, a Tight End at the University of Michigan, can play all three. The Panthers coaches wanted to move Funchess into that ” position…but that would require benching Benjamin, since he couldn’t play the other WR positions. Funchess is comparable in size to Benjamin as well, clocking in at 6’4″ 225lbs. As the 2nd option this year, Funchess has caught 33 balls for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns 8 games into the season. Expect those numbers to jump considerably now that Funchess is the defacto “X” receiver. 

 

And considering former GM Dave Gettleman had elected to extend Benjamin’s 5th year option (at a price), benching Benjamin didn’t seem likely….which leads us to the 4th reason….

4. Benjamin’s production wasnt worth the 5th year extension due next year

 One of the last things former General Manager Dave Gettleman did before being fired, was sign off on the 5th year extension for Benjamin. Set to kick in during the 2018 season, the extension was worth $8.5 million dollars guaranteed. 

Benjamin has not picked up where he left off from his 2014 rookie campaign. After missing the entire 2015 season, Benjamin returned in 2016, a step slower, understandably. Benjamin caught 63 passes for 941 yards on the season. This year after 8 games, Benjamin was projected to finish with 64 catches for 950 yards. Here’s the question…is that type of production worth $8.5 million dollars guaranteed? When the Panthers already proved the offense is more fluid without Benjamin? Cam Newton won a League MVP award and led the Panthers to the NFC championship and 2nd Super Bowl appearance in franchise history…without Benjamin taking a single snap in 2015. 

Basically we didn’t need to extend Benjamin when we did. His stats suggest he is better suited as a #2 Receiver. But Buffalo called Carolina and wanted to make a deal. Because they don’t have ANY receivers. The move adds 8.5 million back to the Panthers Salary Cap for next year…right when they will need to extend RT Andrew Norwell, possibly the best Right Tackle in football currently. 

5. Benjamin didn’t fit the idea the team wanted to move to for the offense.

Head coach Ron Rivera harped on wanting to get faster during the offseason leading up to the 2017 season. They then went out and drafted McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick of the draft and Curtis Samuel with their 2nd round pick. The Panthers wanted to get faster in key positions. 

Having Benjamin gummed that up a bit. Read what Interim GM Marty Hurney had to say regarding the trade this morning on local sports talk radio in Charlotte:

 “This was more about getting more speed on the field. We’ve got some young players who we think have some real ability,” Hurney said in a phone interview. “Kelvin was a very good player and was productive for us. It was more getting a mix of skill sets on the field and more speed.”

Translation? We don’t need Benjamin, hes too slow for what we want to do, we want to move Funchess into that role…which gets more touches for Samuel, Kaelin Clay, Russell Sheppard etc…and hes not worth the money designated for him next year. Plain and Simple. Kudos to Marty Hurney for actually SAVING money on the roster for a change. 

I do believe that ultimately the main issue with the Panthers offense this year is the fact that opposing defenses are loading 8-9 guys in the box, daring Benjamin and Funchess to beat them one on one on the outside. Funchess can. Benjamin showed that he still lacked the separation from the draft analysis in 2014. And now that’s on a bad wheel to boot. So when Buffalo calls and wants to give you multiple picks for a guy you were having some doubts about and you literally have a guy similar in size and skill set on the roster…the move looks to be a no brainer. Once you calm down and process it. 

 

Now it will be up to Cam Newton to incorporate the new speed he will have on the field and translate into points. If they do, Marty Hurney may get the “Biggest Cajones” award for 2017. If not? Hurney will have some explaining to do with Panther Nation. They can be a bit of an emotional bunch…but they also can be a loyal bunch. Lets let this play out and see what happens. 

 

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