Panthers coach Ron Rivera took the high road, and quarterback Cam Newton took a golf cart to leave the practice field, so he wasn’t available to the media to respond to Kelvin Benjamin’s verbal attack on Newton.
But Panthers tight end Greg Olsen addressed the issue by both defending his quarterback and taking a couple of subtle jabs at Benjamin, the former Panthers’ No. 1 wideout who was traded to Buffalo last season for a pair of draft picks.
Olsen called Benjamin’s comments “weird,” while suggesting Benjamin keep his focus on his own Bills team, which hosts Carolina this week in an exhibition game in Buffalo.
“We enjoyed Kelvin. For the most part he was a good person to have around. Things didn’t work out here for him. I get it. I know what that’s like,” said Olsen, who was traded from Chicago to Carolina before the 2011 season.
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“But you’d like to see him just kind of move forward to his team, embrace his new opportunity rather than go personal on it,” Olsen added. “I’ve been shipped off from another team, too. So I get it. At the same point I always knew there was probably more I could’ve done, at that point in my career. And tried to make those improvements the last eight years to do what I thought I was capable of.”
The Panthers drafted Benjamin in the first round in 2014, and he set a team rookie receiving record with 1,008 yards on 73 catches. Benjamin missed the 2015 Super Bowl season, but returned in 2016 with a 941-yard receiving season.
General manager Marty Hurney dealt Benjamin halfway through last season, when Benjamin was struggling to separate from coverage following an offseason in which he’d struggled with weight issues.
During a Q&A with The Athletic that was posted Saturday, Benjamin said Carolina was a bad fit for him and criticized Newton’s passing accuracy.
“If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying? Any other accurate quarterback like (Aaron) Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben (Roethlisberger) — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.”
Newton has never been among the league’s most accurate passers, with just two seasons in which he’s completed at least 60 percent of his throws. But he did win an MVP and take the Panthers to the Super Bowl in the season Benjamin was hurt.
Newton has not seemed to be fazed by Benjamin’s comments or the social media stir they created.
Newton responded to a post on the Panthers’ Instagram account of Olsen on Sunday by saying he was “just working on my accuracy.”
Benjamin told Buffalo reporters Sunday he has no plans to reach out to Newton to clear the air.
“I was just angry at the time. It just came out,” Benjamin said, while adding he hoped to learn from the situation.
Bills coach Sean McDermott, the Panthers’ former defensive coordinator, was not pleased with Benjamin.
“There’s a time and place for things like that. This was not one of them,” McDermott told Buffalo media. “We have a lot of respect for our opponents, No. 1, and everyone in the league. I’ve spoken with Kelvin, and that’s not how I want us to handle things like that.”
Rivera declined to address the incident, saying he wanted to focus on his players.
As for Benjamin taking a shot at Newton, Rivera said: “That’s all right. I’m not worried about that. I’m just worried about what we’re trying to do and the direction we’re trying to go as far as the football team’s concerned.”
Olsen arrived in Charlotte a few months after Newton, and the two have been one of the more productive passing tandems in the league over that span. Olsen, who was the first tight end to post three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons (from 2014-2016), made his feelings clear following Sunday’s practice.
“I’ve told him a lot he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my career. Coming here, this has been the best eight years of my career, and obviously he’s a big part of that,” Olsen said.
“As far as other people’s experiences, it’s hard to speak on how they feel. But I know my eight years with him and countless other guys who’ve played with him have benefited from playing with him.”
Olsen smirked when asked whether Benjamin’s remarks had an effect on Newton.
“I think he was fine today. I think he was himself,” Olsen said. “I don’t think it had much of an impact.”