The New York Giants giving Kelvin Benjamin an in-season tryout would both give the offense a needed weapon and keep him from the hands of rivals.
Sometimes, things just don’t work out. It’s true in real life matters and in sports. When the Buffalo Bills traded with the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in October 2017, Buffalo took a chance on a 2014 first-round draft pick who produced two impressive seasons with the Panthers, who worked to return from a torn ACL he suffered in 2015 and who, ultimately, had a falling out with quarterback Cam Newton, as explained by SB Nation’s James Dator.
Benjamin’s tenure with the Bills ended on Dec. 4 when the team released him and fellow WR Andre Holmes. Most shocking about Buffalo parting ways with the 27-year-old Benjamin weeks before Christmas Day is that he becomes a free agent in early 2019. Obviously, those making decisions for that organization believe removing Benjamin from the equation was a matter of addition by subtraction.
What exactly happened in Buffalo? For starters, the Bills are hardly the model for a stable NFL organization. This is the team that played Nathan Peterman, Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley at quarterback in 2018 after rookie Josh Allen went down to an injury. Nothing about Benjamin’s Buffalo numbers — 39 catches and two receiving scores in 18 regular season games, per Pro-Football-Reference.com — leap off a box score, but a change of scenery could do him good.
As Steven Taranto of 247Sports pointed out, Buffalo allowing Benjamin to find new work this holiday season hasn’t been criticized by those who cover the Bills and Panthers. Some saw the opportunity as a chance to take jabs at the lengthy receiver and question his dedication to the cause:
Why would the New York Giants want somebody like Benjamin in the locker room if he did, in fact, phone it in with the Bills and isn’t in the best possible shape? Largely, it’s a no-risk acquisition for a team that could use a 6-5 receiver in the red zone. Those who have watched the 2018 Giants know all about the team’s struggles at that end of the field. Grabbing Benjamin won’t make New York’s red zone offense any worse.
By the time Benjamin settled in East Rutherford, the Giants will have three games remaining on the schedule; home outings against the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys, and a December 23 road contest versus the Indianapolis Colts.
Essentially, claiming Benjamin is equal to the Giants giving him a three-game tryout. Head coach Pat Shurmur could even sit Benjamin by Week 17 if he failed to impress the staff. The $1.99 million remaining on his deal, per Spotrac’s Michael Ginnitti, is barely a drop in the bucket. It’s Monopoly money at this stage of the campaign.
What’s there to lose? Games? Big deal. The 4-8 Giants are going nowhere, and the club is probably a loss away from at least considering starting rookie Kyle Lauletta over Eli Manning. Perhaps Manning quickly jells with Benjamin, and the Buffalo castoff also becomes fast friends with both Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard en route to signing an inexpensive “prove it” contract with the Giants next March.
This Giants regime took a flier on a former first-round flop earlier this fall when the team signed Corey Coleman, the 24-year old traded by the Cleveland Browns to, ironically, the Bills in August. Buffalo waived Coleman after the preseason, and he landed with the Giants, where he’s shined as a returner. ‘Tis the season for gambles, and the Giants are quickly becoming an island of misfit toys. Just compare the team’s current offensive line to what that unit was on Sept. 1.
Don’t forget that the Giants claiming Benjamin keeps him away from the other three teams in the division, each of which could use the help on offense. The Dallas Cowboys are probably winning the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles, the defending Super Bowl champs, may be getting hot at the right time. The Washington Redskins are, well, they’re a mess, but the Giants shouldn’t let Benjamin fall into Washington’s lap just because.
There’s plenty to be said about Shurmur and company changing the team’s culture and about the Giants learning how to win again. Following the overtime victory over the Chicago Bears, rookie running back Saquon Barkley mentioned how those inside the locker room are approaching the final month of a difficult campaign. Per Giants.com:
“This is my first year being in the NFL, but I have heard on other teams just players that have been on other teams around the league that when the season’s not going your way, a lot of people call it quits and you don’t get that vibe when you come in this building, when you play in a game. For example, like you just said with those guys getting checked out and coming right back in, we’re playing for each other and we’re real competitors and we love going out there competing for each other every single day and we do that no matter what, win, lose or draw. Obviously it just hasn’t been in our favor most of this year, but that just shows and speaks to our character and speaks to the guys on this team and even though it hasn’t been clicking perfectly right now, when this thing does get going, it’s going to make all of this adversity we’ve been going through so much better.”
The Giants locker room is filled with leaders, young and old, who could keep someone such as Benjamin focused for literally a few weeks before everyone goes off on their winter vacations. He’s worth a phone call and a workout. Maybe he’ll be worth a roster spot from through Dec. 30.