No, signing Travis Benjamin is not the worst thing the Chargers could have done today. He’s a talented, versatile player coming off a career year with a god-awful team who will finally get a crack at catching passes from a quarterback whose standing in the league is without question. They could have done worse than signing Benjamin – but, as is the case with these things, the devil is in the details, and the details don’t seem to work in the Chargers’ favor.
Over the course of a 4-year contract, Benjamin is slated to make over $6 million per year – a number made even more staggering when you consider that more than half of that money is guaranteed.
Jan 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin (11) makes a first down catch during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like crazy money for a guy who, by most accounts, will be listed on depth charts as the #2 receiver. After all, on a high-powered, pass-heavy San Diego offense, the #2 receiver’s usage will be through the roof, right?
The presence of a worthy deep threat in any offense is absolutely essential. And that’s just what Benjamin is. He’s gives coordinators a vessel through whom they can spread out the field, keeping all of their offensive options open as they trudge through a game. But, on the San Diego Chargers – particularly since the arrival of guys like Danny Woodhead, Steve Johnson and returning offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – deep threats, even when listed as #2 receivers (see Malcom Floyd) have been used as just that: threats – often deployed, rarely used, and until now, paid appropriately to do just that.
Take the 2015 season, for example. Malcom Floyd, who was employed in the perceived Benjamin “deep threat” role, amassed a grand total of 30 catches. Lower than you’d like from a #2 receiver? I figured. And while you could argue that Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator, given the similarities between his offense and Whisenhunt’s, the following numbers are probably indicative.
The Chargers’ top receivers over the 2015 season were as follows:
- Danny Woodhead
- Keenan Allen (Who likely would have surpassed Woodhead without injury)
- Antonio Gates
- Steve Johnson
- Ladarius Green
- Dontrelle Inman
- Melvin Gordon
- Malcom Floyd
Oct 25, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt celebrates after an interception by linebacker Avery Williamson (not pictured) during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Nissan Stadium. The Falcons won 10-7. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
That’s right – Malcom Floyd was the 8th most productive pass-catcher on the roster last season. And though one of the seven in front of him (Green) will be gone come September, it’s worth noting that A) Rivers has an established rapport with the above receivers, and B) Whisenhunt’s return, if indicative of any change at all, likely means that the passing attack will lean even more heavily on running backs – he’ll want to keep Woodhead in the fold, and will probably want to get Gordon more involved. The end result? Less catches available for Benjamin.
All this being said – Travis Benjamin is an exciting addition to a team that really hasn’t had an electric playmaker of his ilk in quite some time. He’ll be a breath of fresh air on kick returns, and if the offense skews his way (which I hope it does) I’ll be eating my words by Columbus Day. But, if the offense tilts toward other receivers, and Benjamin is left with Floyd-ian numbers, the Chargers will have committed a lot of money to a player whose role likely could have filled for a fraction of the price.