Scott Fowler

Weighing in on receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and why the Panthers picked up his option year

Kelvin Benjamin (right) in 2016 while listening to Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey during a practice.
Kelvin Benjamin (right) in 2016 while listening to Carolina Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey during a practice. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Before we all hurl more insults at overweight Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, let me ask you something: Are you 100 percent satisfied with your own weight right now?

Can you pinch an inch? Grab a slab? Do your clothes drape perfectly across your body? Do you ever look at a picture somebody took of you and grimace?

Most of us – and certainly I include myself in this sentence – would like to lose some weight. It isn’t easy, or else everyone would be skinny and the dieting industry would implode.

Benjamin’s weight problem is more public than most, of course. And I’m not excusing him for it. Every extra pound he lugs around makes it a bit simpler for defensive backs to glue themselves to No. 13.

Nevertheless, the Panthers picked up Benjamin’s fifth-year contract option for the 2018 season Tuesday, and I would have done the same thing. The risk is relatively minor – Carolina can get out of paying Benjamin that $8.5 million as long as he is healthy when and if they cut him before next season. The Panthers can see how the 2017 season goes and then decide while knowing they won’t lose Benjamin to unrestricted free agency.

Benjamin can offer rewards. In his two healthy seasons, he has averaged 975 receiving yards and eight touchdowns a year. If you remember the last real drive of the last real game the Panthers played, against Tampa Bay, Benjamin had a 47-yard catch, a fourth-down conversion and a 5-yard touchdown catch.

Yet Benjamin has long been a frustrating player. He can catch anything, and he can drop anything. The few penalties he picks up seem to invariably be critical. He doesn’t get much separation from defensive backs.

And then there’s the weight issue. Listed at 245 pounds, a source told The Observer’s Joseph Person that Benjamin, who is 6-foot-5, has played games weighing as much as 252 pounds.

And Benjamin is likely above that right now. Coach Ron Rivera described Benjamin as “a little heavy” over the weekend, but said a broadcast report that placed Benjamin at close to 280 pounds was incorrect.

“Am I concerned? Yes, because he is heavy. I’m going to admit that right now,” Rivera said of Benjamin. “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.”

Panthers fans are angry with Benjamin again, because Rivera has previously alluded to Benjamin’s extra pounds putting extra stress on his lower body. And Benjamin was redshirted at Florida State after he showed up bigger than coaches wanted him to be. And in general, Benjamin often seems to play more like a tight end than a receiver in terms of his (lack of) speed.

It would be nice if Benjamin would go on a Kennedy Meeks regimen, transforming his mind and body in the same sort of way that the North Carolina big man from West Charlotte High did on his way to the 2017 national college basketball championship.

Alas, for most, it doesn’t work like that. The weight comes off, only to go back on again. The Panthers have had a number of players who struggled with weight before, and they will have more. That’s life in America. If you don’t struggle with your weight yourself, I’m sure you can name several people close to you who do.

So does Benjamin need a wakeup call and some tough love? Sure. Maybe the way the Panthers have made this something of a public issue will do it. But what he really needs is a personal chef, a bunch of friends and family to help him make the right choices and a lock on the refrigerator at night.

Look, the guy can play. Let’s not forget that. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

If somebody can just motivate Benjamin correctly, he could be ready for a breakout year. And if no one can, the Panthers ultimately can part ways with him following the 2017 season. But picking up this option was the correct move while Benjamin still has the option to decide what sort of player he wants to be.

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