Chiefs make Kelvin Benjamin signing official amid concern over Sammy Watkins’ foot

New Chiefs WR Kelvin Benjamin practices with team

New Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin practices with team on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, after the Chiefs signed him after recently being released by the Buffalo Bills.
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New Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin practices with team on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018, after the Chiefs signed him after recently being released by the Buffalo Bills.

The Chiefs wasted very little time in signing free-agent and former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The Bills waived Benjamin on Tuesday, and the Chiefs moved quickly to get the former first-round draft pick into their facility on Thursday and announced his signing Friday morning.

Part of the reason the move happened so quickly may have become startlingly clear this week as The Star has learned from a source that starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to be sidelined for 4-6 weeks. That timetable includes time he has already missed, so he’d likely be out this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium and then day to day after that.

Following Friday’s practice, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Watkins had “tweaked” his foot on Thursday and had an MRI on it that came back “OK.”

The Chiefs waived defensive end Jarvis Jenkins to make room for Benjamin. The roster spot vacated after last weekend’s waiving of running back Kareem Hunt got filled earlier this week when the team signed running back Charcandrick West.

“He’s been good against us, number one,” Reid said of Benjamin. “A big, physical player and, again, you add him to the mix. He comes in, he’s got experience and been a good football player at this level and in this league. He was a great college player. We liked him coming out of Florida State.”

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The Chiefs have played the majority of their past three games without Watkins, a big-ticket free-agent signing last offseason. Watkins participated on a limited basis during Thursday’s practice due to a foot injury that has hampered him since the Chiefs’ game in Cleveland on Nov. 4.

Watkins 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 last week against the Raiders.

Benjamin, who will wear jersey No. 81, practiced with the Chiefs for the first time on Friday. He almost certainly will not play this week, but Reid left open the possibility of him playing Thursday night against the Los Angeles Chargers despite having a short week of practice leading into that game.

A rangy 6-foot-5 receiver, 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, and he 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.

Benjamin has faced criticism from fans about his weight, though Reid downplayed any potential conditioning issues.

“He’s in a great shape,” Reid said. “He’s 239 pounds and looking good. He’s been big, I mean he’s a big kid. He’s in phenomenal shape, and sometimes a change of scenery can be good for a guy.”

This season, Benjamin has caught just 23 passes despite having been targeted 62 times. He logged 354 receiving yards in 12 games. The Chiefs’ fifth-leading receiver this season, Chris Conley, has 25 receptions for 248 yards.

Bills coach Sean McDermott told Buffalo media he hadn’t spoken to Reid about Benjamin. McDermott coached under Reid in Philadelphia and considers Reid one of his mentors.

Benjamin admitted he could see the end coming for him with Buffalo, and he said the Chiefs quickly showed interest in having him in on a visit. Benjamin, who toured the facility on Thursday, liked what he heard and saw as well as the prospects of joining an offense he described as “unguardable.”

“It’s a business,” Benjamin said. “I’m glad to be here. The Chiefs have been tearing it up this year. They’re one of the teams that really wanted me, and I’m happy and glad to be here.”

Benjamin made headlines earlier this season after making critical comments in an interview. Among the comments, he said would have had more success if he’d played with another accurate quarterback instead of Cam Newton to start his career. Newton then confronted him during pregame warmups before the Bills-Panthers preseason game.

While Benjamin’s numbers have dropped off since his first season, the Bills’ quarterback issues have also been well documented. They’ve used four starting quarterbacks this season and have posted a 4-8 record.

The group of passers that Benjamin has played with this year included rookie Josh Allen; 35-year-old veteran backup Derek Anderson, who the team signed in October; Matt Barkley, who did not appear in a game in 2017 and who signed in October; and Nathan Peterman, who had 12 career interceptions in 130 pass attempts in eight games for the Bills before being cut in November.

“There’s a lot of variables, I guess,” Benjamin said of the Bills. “It’s just one of those seasons. It’s a rebuild-type year, I guess.”

Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger and the Buffalo News contributed to this report.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.