The Chiefs have gone two full games and most of another without wide receiver Sammy Watkins on the field, and star wideout Tyreek Hill had his worst game of the season — from a production standpoint — on Sunday in Oakland.
With that backdrop, the Chiefs have signed former Buffalo Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a free-agent deal for the rest of this season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. News of Benjamin, a former first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, visiting the Chiefs initially broke Thursday via Schefter on Twitter. Benjamin also appeared in a Twitter photo alleged to have been taken at Kansas City International Airport on Thursday.
The deal, which had not yet been announced by the team, appears a low-risk acquisition since Benjamin cleared waivers earlier this week. Had a team claimed him, that team would be on the hook for the remainder of his contract.
While first-year starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes continues playing at a historic pace — he has reached 4,000 career passing yards quicker than any quarterback in NFL history — the final month of the regular includes a matchup against the league’s top defensive team this weekend, as well as contests against the Los Angeles Chargers, who sit one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West, and a road game against the NFC playoff hopeful Seattle Seahawks.
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Chiefs coach Andy Reid was not due to speak with reporters again until Friday afternoon. While Reid typically deflects any reports of free-agent visits by saying general manager Brett Veach is always looking to make the roster better, the idea that Benjamin visited and signed raises at least mild concern over when Watkins might return.
Watkins participated on a limited basis during Thursday’s practice due to a foot injury that has hampered him since the game in Cleveland on Nov. 4. He was inactive against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 11, and he played just five snaps against the Los Angeles Rams in the Monday night shootout before Thanksgiving. He was inactive once again against the Raiders.
All-Pro safety Eric Berry, who returned to practice last week for the first time since training camp in August, also participated on a limited basis on Thursday.
“So they will be out there, and we will see what they can do,” Reid said the last time he spoke with reporters before Wednesday’s practice. “We will just take it from there. It is not necessarily limited. They are going to be out there doing what they do, and we will just see. See how it goes. Both of those are day to day. They are kind of right on that edge where they just have to go out and practice and see what happens.”
Tight end Demetrius Harris did not participate in Thursday’s practice. The Chiefs said he missed the workouts due to illness, but he was also listed on the injury report as having a knee ailment.
A 6-foot-5, 245-pound former Florida State standout, Benjamin entered the NFL as the 28th overall pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2014. He started 15 games and registered 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. He spent the 2015 season on injured reserve with a torn left ACL, then posted 63 catches and 941 receiving yards in 2016. The Panthers traded him to the Bills in October 2017 in exchange for a pair of 2018 draft picks.
This season, Benjamin caught just 23 passes while being targeted 62 times. He logged 354 receiving yards in 12 games. The Bills released him on Tuesday, and he cleared waivers.
Benjamin, who’d faced criticism from fans over the years for putting on weight, made headlines earlier this season after telling The Athletic in an interview that he would have had more success if he’d played with a more accurate quarterback than Cam Newton to start his career. Newton then confronted him during pregame warmups before the Bills-Panthers preseason game.