The 26 year old wide receiver is entering his 3rd full healthy season in the NFL (4th season in total). To say that his career hasn’t been surrounded by scrutiny to this point would be an understatement.
With questions surrounding his weight since before the draft in 2014, in 2015, and now in 2017. Questions about effort, stats coming at garbage times in games, and playing small when he is on the field. On top of suffering a major injury before his second season in the NFL which set him back.
The biggest question however may come throughout the 2017 season, and 2018 off-season.
The Panthers decided to pick Kelvin Benjmain’s 5th year option for 2018 as you can read below by Bill Voth of Panthers.com.
CHARLOTTE – Back in March, general manager Dave Gettleman said he planned to pick up Kelvin Benjamin‘s fifth-year option. With the clock ticking toward the deadline, Gettleman finally made it official Tuesday afternoon.
The option, which is only guaranteed for injury, extends Benjamin’s contract through 2018.
Which would ensure the receivers return through the 2018 season if the Panthers want to keep him, but do they?
Picking up Benjamin’s option at the end of the day was the smart move for a number of reasons. It ensures if Benjamin has a break out season in 2017, and shows improvement over his performances in the past that the Panthers have their guy under contract going into 2018.
It pushes off any new negotiations until the 2019 off-season, and allows them one more season to see if his 2017 season was the real deal if he does have a break out year.
On top of that it also provides value for Benjamin to become a trade option if he doesn’t perform well or the Panthers want to move on from him. This way they wouldn’t lose him for nothing, much like they did with Kony Ealy, but with no cap ramifications in dead money on Benjamin outside of freeing up $8.45 million for the Panthers to use in 2018.
There is also the Devin Funchess factor as well. With Funchess due a new deal in 2019 both Benjamin, and Funchess are battling it out to be the last big man standing on the roster come the 2018 or 2019 season. One will inevitably have to go.
Gettleman will be faced with a question of which big receiver he wants to keep. That is if he wants to keep one at all. Gettleman will also have to weigh Benjamin’s cap figure in 2018 against other players due new contracts.
With players like Turner, Star, Davis, Olsen, and Norwell all looking for new deals in 2018. If the Panthers value those players more than Benjamin, then he may be one of the players they look to move to free up room for the 2018 off-season.
A decision is coming soon on Benjamin’s future with the team, and it may come sooner rather than later. If he performs well the Panthers can push that decision off for another season. If not it won’t surprise me to hear him traded before the deadline in 2017 or in the 2018 off-season.
I believe Benjmain’s future with the Panthers rides on his 2017 season, and how valuable he can make the Panthers believe he is.
After being thrust into the spotlight during the Benjamin injury in his rookie season, and having a decent rookie season with 34 receptions for 473 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The 23 year old wide receiver enters his 3rd full season in the NFL in 2017.
While his rookie campaign was good given the circumstances surrounding it, Funchess followed it up by taking a slight step back in production with 23 receptions for 371 yards, and 4 touchdowns in his second season after a promising Training Camp in 2016.
Funchess would enter the 2018 off-season on the final year of his rookie deal, and while there will be no cap concerns with Funchess at that time. Gettleman may start making decisions with the big wide receiver in 2017.
GM Dave Gettleman has stated several times that he likes to follow a 3 year evaluation rule with Draft picks, which is modeled off the late great Bill Walsh’s 2 year philosophy. As an example the Kony Ealy, and Tre Boston decisions came after their 3rd full season with the team.
As you can read below in a quote from an article by Panthers.com writer Bryan Strickland.
“Back then the NFL was getting a much more finished product than we’re getting now,” Gettleman said. “Now, it’s really a three-year rule. You’ve got to understand there are going to be growing pains. Nothing is easy.”
With both Benjamin and Funchess entering their 3rd full healthy seasons in 2017, and the likely chance that at least one of these receivers will be playing in a different uniform by the end of their current deals. Gettleman may want to start figuring out which receiver he can get value for before the end of their deal.
That evaluation, and decision could come as soon as the 2017 season or 2018 off-season. With the additions of promising receivers like Shepard, and Samuel plus the versatility of McCaffrey in 2017.
The Panthers could look move either Benjamin or Funchess in a trade before their deal is up. While the Panthers could let the contract play out for both receivers, and push the decision off until the 2019 off-season.
The chances are high this decision comes before then. So what you may be watching in 2017 is two big receivers fighting it out to be the last big receiver remaining on the roster.
As they duke it out in stats, and production to see which one can land a payday with the Panthers in 2019. That is if the Panthers don’t decide to go a different direction altogether that doesn’t include either receiver.