In the span of a year, cornerback Bene’ Benwikere went from being the starter on a Super Bowl-caliber team to looking for work on teams’ practice squads. The fifth-round pick from 2014 was on track to log over 1000 snaps for the Panthers in 2015 until he suffered a broken leg in Week 14 against the Falcons.
In spite of the fact that he was coming off a broken leg, the Panthers still believed in Benwikere enough that they allowed him to enter the 2016 season as their top cornerback after they rescinded the franchise tag from Josh Norman, whom the Steelers ended up facing in the first game of the season.
Now they may be seeing Benwikere, because the latest leg of his increasingly complicated journey now finds him in Ohio as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, although he was signed only to a one-year veteran-minimum contract.
The 2016 season didn’t exactly go as planned. His year ended for the second time against the Falcons, but this time it was only his ego that was bruised. Julio Jones put up 300 yards in that game, and Benwikere was the primary defender victimized time and again.
The Panthers released him after that game, through just a quarter of the season, and the Dolphins signed him to their practice squad three days later. He spent most of the rest of the year there, but he also joined the Packers’ practice squad late in the season.
The Bengals signed him off the street a few days ago, hoping to bolster their depth at the position and help them make some important decisions they are facing at cornerback, with one starter facing free agency and the other having become a nuisance after a recent arrest.
About his experience with the Panthers in 2016, he admitted that he had some conditioning issues, but he told the Bengals’ website that he struggled to adjust to a new role in a “tough year”. “I got the new role, tried to understand it, correct it, and do the right thing and it didn’t work out. It’s a new opportunity where basically I’m trying to re-identify myself this year”.
Benwikere reportedly visited with four other teams before signing with the Bengals, so he apparently had options, but said that the Bengals felt “a little more homey” than other organizations that he had met with.
For his part, he says that he has learned a lot from his experience, including the Falcons game that forced the Panthers to send him packing. He reiterated the fact that he was in a new role and pointed out that they had others on him, including the first one who got hurt.
He also talked about ascending into a leadership role at a young age and how he has learned from that experience how to be a better leader. Of course, he still has a long way to go before he carves out a similar role for himself in Cincinnati.