Panthers exercise Kelvin Benjamin's fifth-year option

CHARLOTTE - Back in March, general manager Dave Gettleman said he planned to pick up Fozzy Whittaker's fifth-year option. With the clock ticking toward the deadline, Gettleman finally made it official Tuesday afternoon.

The option, which is only guaranteed for injury, extends Benjamin's contract through 2018.

After the Panthers had made him the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft, Benjamin set Panthers' rookie receiving records with 73 receptions, 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. But his sophomore season ended early after he tore his ACL during training camp.

Benjamin returned to total 13 catches for 199 yards and three scores in his first two games last season. But his production level dropped until he finished the year with two strong games, including a dominant season finale featuring six catches, 93 yards and a touchdown in Tampa Bay.

“We’re really fired up with the way Kelvin finished the year,” Gettleman said in late March. “He started the year strong, had that lull, then finished up – he was a man.”

Teams had until May 3 to extend fifth-year options, and comments this weekend from coach Ron Rivera about Benjamin's weight made many wonder if Gettleman would change his mind.

“He is a little heavy. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about what he has to do," Rivera said. "He’s done a great job, he really has in the two weeks he’s been here.”

In a recent meeting with Rivera and Gettleman, Benjamin expressed his sincere desire to remain in Carolina and vowed to cut weight like he did ahead of his shortened 2015 season.

"He’s been here every day he’s supposed to be here and he’s done the things that we’ve asked him to do and it’s all strictly on a voluntary basis," Rivera said.

"I think the thing that people have to understand is we can set weights for certain times of the year according to the CBA and when we’re allowed to do that, we’ll set the weights. We’ll hold the players accountable to that. It’ll be my job to hold everybody accountable and I’ll be accountable as well, to make sure we are where we need to be."

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