Carolina Panthers

Panthers exercise Kelvin Benjamin’s 5th-year option

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (13) misses a pass as Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins (32) defends during the first half at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, December 24, 2016. The Falcons won, 33-16.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (13) misses a pass as Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins (32) defends during the first half at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, December 24, 2016. The Falcons won, 33-16. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Carolina Panthers have exercised the fifth-year option on wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the team announced Tuesday.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said in March the team planned to pick up Benjamin’s option for 2018, which is expected to be worth around $8.5 million.

But the decision became less certain as reports surfaced that Benjamin had shown up overweight and out of shape for the team’s offseason program.

The Panthers had until midnight Tuesday to exercise the fifth-year option on Benjamin, their first-round pick from 2014. Benjamin’s option is guaranteed for injury only, meaning the Panthers could cut him and not owe him anything if they do so before the start of the 2018 league year.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Saturday he was concerned about Benjamin, whose weight struggles have followed him since Florida State.

Benjamin, who is 6-foot-5, is listed at 245 pounds, but his playing weight is closer to 250-252, according to a team source. Rivera wouldn’t reveal Benjamin’s current weight, but said he’d been putting in the work to lose it.

“He is a little heavy. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. We talked about what he has to do, and he’s done a great job,” Rivera said. “Am I concerned? Yes, because he is heavy. I’m going to admit that right now. But is he working hard? Absolutely. He’s been there everyday and done the things we’ve asked him to do, and it’s all strictly on a voluntary basis.”

Benjamin had a 1,008-yard receiving season as a rookie before missing the Super Bowl season of 2015 following ACL surgery. Although he had 10 fewer receptions last season compared to his rookie year, Benjamin nearly matched his yardage total with 941 receiving yards.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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