This is a business.
After Carolina Panthers decided to trade away wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin the team remains busy preparing for an NFC South showdown against defending NFC Champions Atlanta Falcons. While having to part ways with Benjamin is tough for players at the same time they understand the NFL is a business, sentiments both quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Russell Shepard echoed when addressing the media Wednesday.
“I don’t want to dwell on that. Obviously its an emotional connection but that can’t be a distraction for our preparation this week,” Newton said, who was a close friend of Benjamin off the field. “You can’t replace Benji [but] you just have to roll with the punches…it’s a business.”
Trading Benjamin was in the best interests for the team, head coach Ron Rivera said during a press conference Wednesday. With Benjamin out Panthers will have packages where faster receivers will be in a majority of the plays. Beforehand, with rotations defenses knew what to expect when they took Benjamin out. When seeing a speed receiver subbed in teams knew he was in for either a deep route or to run the reverse, Rivera explained. With Benjamin out they will have a versatile receiving core each play they run, Rivera said. Have they kept Benjamin the receiving core wouldn’t be as versatile as he’s a very similar skill set to Devin Funchess, Rivera said.
This season the offense has struggled as rank in the bottom third of the NFL. Ranking 21st in total offense they are 20th in rushing, averaging less than 98 yards per game, and 19th in passing averaging fewer than 215 yards per game. When it comes to scoring they are ranked 23rd averaging only 18.5 points a game.
With the offense struggling the shakeup was necessary, Rivera said.
“The biggest thing we did was create an opportunity for some young guys, some fast guys, to get on the field,” Rivera said. “We haven’t stretch the football field this year.”
With more speed and opportunities to stretch the field the anticipation is they won’t get eight guys in the box which will help the running game, Rivera said. Looking back at the 2015 season, when Newton won MVP and Panthers made a Super Bowl appearance when Benjamin was sidelined the entire season due to injury, the offense spread the ball well, Rivera said.
While coaches and the front office believe Panthers offense will be better off without Benjamin, players on the team will have to overcome the shock of their friend no longer in the locker room.
Will this trade make the players jobs harder?
“My feelings are irrelevant. We’ve got one thing to do and that’s to win football games,” Newton said. “Its hard when you have emotional attachments…at the end of the day life goes on.
“You think Atlanta care about that?”
With both Panthers (5-3) and Falcons (4-3) in the thick of the NFC South race chasing New Orleans Saints (5-2) this isn’t a game Panthers can afford to be thrown off by distractions. And with a young receiving core those guys are looking forward to the opportunity, Shepard said. He’s confident those receivers will step up like the guys on the 2015 squad did when Benjamin was injured.
“Other guys had to step up and take the reins,” Shepard told reporters Wednesday, speaking of the 2015 season. “I think it’s going to be a great situation for a lot of us young guys…the coaching staff and the body of work we have in the receiving room, we’ll be able to make the best of this.
“Its next man up.”
Throughout Newton’s career, especially last year when Panthers lost to Falcons both times, he’s noticed a difference when his hometown team gets the better of him.
“Off-season are better when we beat Atlanta,” Newton said.
Panthers versus Falcons kicks off at 1pm EST in Charlotte.
By Gino Terrell