Cam Newton apparently believes in the saying, “If you have a problem with somebody, tell it to their face.” During warm-ups before a Panthers-Bills preseason game Thursday, the Carolina quarterback confronted Buffalo wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, a former teammate who made disparaging comments about Newton to a reporter last week.
In an interview published Friday by The Athletic, Benjamin complained that he would have been “even more successful” if he had “just been drafted by somebody else,” and that Carolina was “a bad fit from the get-go” for him. A first-round pick by the Panthers in 2014, Benjamin was traded to the Bills midway through last season for a pair of draft picks.
The comments that got the attention of Newton and plenty of other people — including Buffalo Coach Sean McDermott — featured this passage: “If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying? Any other accurate quarterback like [Aaron] Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben [Roethlisberger] — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.”
Initially, Newton’s only response, posted in a video to social media, was to say that he wasn’t “gonna go back and forth with him” but continue to “work.” The video was overlaid with the captions “All love on this side” and “No excuses just work.”
It wasn’t clear how much love was on the table Thursday when Newton approached Benjamin on the field at New Era Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., but the quarterback appeared to proffer a handshake that was rejected. Benjamin was speaking with another former teammate, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who appeared to say with a smile, “I thought we were cool,” while standing very close to the receiver.
Newton waved Davis away so he could have a one-on-one conversation with Benjamin, then followed the receiver as he tried to walk away. It’s not clear what they said to each other, but the interaction did not end in the friendliest of ways.
After Benjamin’s comments were published, McDermott expressed disapproval, saying Sunday (via ESPN), “There’s a time and a place — I’m not saying specific to what comments were made — there’s a time and place for things like that. This was not one of them. We have a lot of respect for our opponents, No. 1, and everyone in the league.
“I’ve spoken with Kelvin, and that’s not how I want us to handle things like that. So we’ll move forward as a team, and I’m hoping we’ve already done that.”
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen called Benjamin’s barbs “weird,” adding Sunday (via Panthers.com): “Things didn’t work out here for him. I get it. I know what that’s like, but you’d like to see him kind of move forward to his new team and embrace his new opportunity, rather than kind of go personal on it.”
Benjamin may have walked away from the tense exchange with Newton, but he was happy run into the end zone shortly thereafter. He scored a first-quarter touchdown in the game against the Panthers, giving the Bills an early lead, then leaped into the stands to celebrate with Buffalo fans.
After the game, a 28-23 Panthers win in which Newton completed six of nine passes for 84 yards, he declined to speak with reporters. Benjamin, who caught four passes for 59 yards and the score, was content to repeatedly assert that he was “moving on from it.”
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