Less than 100 miles south of campus, North Carolina’s NFL team holds their practices in preparation for their upcoming games. The Carolina Panthers are led by quarterback Cam Newton – who became a household name when he put the Panthers on his back and dabbed his way into Super Bowl 50 only to fall to the Denver Broncos. Ranked second in the NFC South this season, they can only hope to get to the opportunity to play for the championship again.
The biggest news during this Panthers season is centered on 2014 first round draft pick and former Panthers wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, and his trade to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a third round and seventh round pick in the draft. Some Panthers fans are upset about the decision to trade Benjamin while others agree that it was best for the team. With Benjamin gone, the Panthers must lean on Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel for the bulk of the receiving duties, as well as the running game of Jonathan Stewart and rookie Christian McCaffrey.
Benjamin led the team’s receivers with 475 yards and two touchdowns on 32 catches this season.
NFL analyst and former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith says that the decision may not have been so bad. He argues that Benjamin and Funchess are essentially the same player; there skills sets are almost identical. Keeping them both was hurting their offense more than helping because they struggled with “stretching the field vertically.”
The ultimate decision came down to money. The Panthers went with the cheaper and younger option in Funchess (Benjamin costed the team $8.2 million).
Around campus there is a mix of emotions regarding the trade and season. Kelvin Wright, senior, has the same take as Steve Smith.
“We didn’t need Benjamin,” he says, “we went to the Super Bowl the year [Benjamin] he got hurt, he tore his knee. He got slow and he made other defenses not respect our passing game. He was clogging the field.”
He continues, saying that “it was good to get rid of him and put speed in his place, now opponents will respect the deep threat.”
Other Carolina fans like senior Sherm Wilson, say they should’ve kept Benjamin. Wilson went on to say that “[Benjamin] was the best receiver on the team; he was the best shot they had at the Super Bowl. They still might make it though. I believe in them.”
Benjamin looks to be a big help to the Bills. Currently, tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy both have more receiving yards than receiver on the roster. Hopefully, Benjamin can step up for their offense and assist current Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor by opening up the field and giving them more passing options. Benjamin can help increase the wide receivers’ receiving yard totals thereby taking some of the receiving burden off the other players. Already at 5-2 for the season and ranked second in the AFC East, the Bills need anyone who can help them keep their win streak going. Maybe Benjamin could even help put them in playoff position.
As for the season, the Panthers are 6-3 so far and second in the NFC South so the playoffs are definitely in reach. Their next game is Monday against the Miami Dolphins who are currently 4-4. If the Panthers keep winning, with or without Benjamin, they have a pretty good shot at the playoffs.
These next five games are the real test; they will truly break the fans’ split opinion regarding the trade decision.
The Panthers played the Bills earlier this year where Buffalo fell 9-3 to Carolina. Benjamin averaged 12.8 yards on 6 receptions during the game while Funchess averaged 17 yards on just four receptions. As for the Bills, running back LeSean McCoy led the team in carries and receptions.
All Carolina fans can do is hope for the best and cheer the Panthers on as they fight for a playoff spot and ultimately a Vince Lombardi Trophy.