Deadline surprise: Panthers trade WR Kelvin Benjamin to Bills

Here’s a surprise: the Carolina Panthers have traded receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills for third- and seventh-round picks, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The annual NFL trade deadline was 4 p.m. ET, and NFL Network reports the deal came together at 3:57, just three minutes before the deadline.

Forced split: The Panthers have traded Kelvin Benjamin, right, to the Buffalo Bills, giving Cam Newton one less receiver. (AP)

While the trade means Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, is reunited with Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, the pair now leading Buffalo and who came from Carolina, it is a curious deal for the Panthers to have made.

They’re in the bottom third of the league in both points scored (148, which ranks 23rd) and total yards (2,488, 21st), and tight end Greg Olsen, a favored target of Cam Newton, is on injured reserve until at least the end of November with a broken foot.

Benjamin was the team’s third-leading receiver in terms of catches with 32, behind rookie running back Christian McCaffrey and Devin Funchess. His 475 yards led the team, and he had scored two touchdowns.

Newton was a fan of Benjamin, praising him on Sunday after Carolina’s win over division rival Tampa Bay:

“He’s a person that’s an unbelievable teammate. He comes to work each and every day,” Newton said. “He may not be the talkative person all the time, but I guarantee you, when you want people in your foxhole, Kelvin Benjamin is the person that you want.

“You know you can just see it on his face. He’s usually a very enthusiastic person come gameday, and man, I could just see it.”

Benjamin’s mother, Christine, died unexpectedly in July, just before the start of training camp.

For the Bills, who have been a surprise this season at 5-2 and squarely in the AFC playoff picture midway through the season, it’s certainly a smart move.

Buffalo’s leading pass-catchers are running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Charles Clay; their top three receivers, Jordan Matthews, Andre Holmes and Zay Jones, have combined to offer the Bills roughly the same output -36 receptions for 404 yards – as Benjamin gave the Panthers on his own.