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Carolina Panthers

Grill Bill: The Kelvin Benjamin Trade edition

I'm not sure if this is serious or a bit melodramatic, but there's no question Kelvin Benjamin's now-former teammates were as shocked as everyone outside the building by Tuesday's trade. And perhaps some were still feeling a sting Wednesday, almost like the day after a breakup. But these guys aren't teenagers that need some time and space before a wound heals. They're professionals for a reason. 

It'll take longer for fans to get over it. Maybe. So much depends on how things shake out the next few weeks and months. If this does indeed open up the offense as interim general manager Marty Hurney is betting, the Panthers will have moved on to better things. If not, and if Benjamin produces in Buffalo, then we can talk about the one who got away. 

How do you think Cam will respond with his performance Sunday? Do you think his best friend and favorite WR leaving will have an affect? — Jhow (@Psyko_Pntherfan) November 1, 2017

This is a popular question, but again, Cam Newton's not 16. He's 28, and while it stinks to see a friend leave, stuff like that is very much a part of his profession. 

For what it's worth, Newton said all the right things Wednesday, including: 

"At the end of the day, it's a business. You think Atlanta cares about that? My feelings are irrelevant. We've got one job to do, and that's winning football games. I'm up to that task. It's hard when you have emotional attachments. That happened with Benji, happened with Joe (Webb), happened with a couple of guys. I took it hard, but at the end of the day, life goes on."

Now, will losing his favorite receiver affect Newton's game? That's a fair question that could go either way. 

If you don't like the trade, you can make an argument the Panthers didn't get better by trading away their leading wideout in terms of receiving yards. 

But how much did not having Benjamin affect Newton in 2015? That's the argument the Panthers hope will win out. 

Email from Kerby: *If the problem with Kelvin/reason for the trade was to give faster receivers more opportunities, why not sit Kelvin and give those guys a try (with Funchess being sole big guy) before trading him?  *

Sitting starters in the NFL rarely goes well. It's a huge distraction waiting to happen. Front offices and coaches would much rather rip off the Band-Aid. 

This truly began with a conversation Tuesday morning between Hurney and his former mentee, Bills general manager Brandon Beane. It ramped up early in the afternoon with some text messages and then finished just before the trade deadline. The Panthers weren't dangling Benjamin, whose name was brought up by Beane. 

As far as the value goes, I get the optics of it aren't great – a 5-3 team acting as sellers, not buyers. But trading him makes it clear Benjamin wasn't in the Panthers' long-term plans. If they waited until the offseason to do something, they would have likely received even less. Getting a pair of draft picks, including a third-rounder, for a guy with one-and-a-half years left on his contract isn't too shabby. 

Email from Jake: *Don't you think the front office could've been thinking that there was only enough money to keep either Star Lotulelei (on his 5th year option this year - $6.75M and likely needs to come up to $8-9M) OR Kelvin (5th year option kicks in for $8.5M next year)? *

That's an OK theory, but … no. The cap space is nice, but financially, Kelvin's trade wasn't connected to any other player on the Panthers' roster. 

I see where you're going, but apples/oranges.

Their concerns a couple of weeks ago were specifically about asking Samuel to do things at wideout, from the slot and in the backfield. Now the rookie will likely concentrate solely on the flanker position. 

"It defines what he's going to do. Now we're not trying to find a way to get him on the field. Now he has a specific role," head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday. "'This is what you do. You're the Z or you're the F,' as opposed to, 'You're the Z, you're the F, you're the H, you're the whatever.'" 

Plus, as Rivera explained further, Samuel will now be asked to run a more varied route tree. Before, defenses knew if he was on the field, he'd probably be running either a reverse or just straight down the field. 

As of today, it's a toss-up. I wouldn't be surprised to see Rivera put more trust in veteran Russell Shepard at first, but Samuel was a second-round pick. He's the burner the Panthers need to stretch the field.

Not every team handles this stuff the same way, but in general, they give guys about two weeks. 

Whoever is saying that is smart. Or, they're onto what I think is the most underrated aspect of what the Panthers are trying to do with this trade. 

The Panthers will only go so far as their run game will take them, and the run game has been a shell of its former self the past few weeks. When something like that happens, it's easy to pin the blame on Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, the offensive line and the coordinator. But what most missed was how the lack of a vertical threat was affecting the Panthers on the ground. 

"We had a lot of single safeties, so that meant the other safety was in the box," Rivera said. "We have to do something to alleviate the pressure that's being put on the offense to run the ball.

"You start looking at it and you go back to the last couple of times that we've really struggled running the football. And you start seeing the eight and nine guys in the box and you start seeing when guys zero-blitz you in the middle of the field on second and 8, second and 10. There's a little something there where you sit there and go, 'OK. They're not respecting your ability to do certain things.'"

So if Samuel, Kaelin Clay or even Damiere Byrd can make opponents think twice about where to position their safeties, it could help jumpstart the run game - THE most vital part of the Panthers offense.  

Technically, nowhere. The Panthers are home the next two weeks and then they get a bye before going back on the road Thanksgiving weekend. 

And if you're hoping to go where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky, at least the forecast for Sunday's game against the Falcons looks partly cloudy with temps reaching into the low 70s.

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