The Chiefs blogosphere, and perhaps the Chiefs fan base as a whole, needs a reality check. It is entirely possible that once a legitimately great talent is on your team for five years, you begin to take it for granted. It is entirely possible that all of us are just fans on a base level, and thus will always root for players to sign at the cheapest price tag conceivable. And it is entirely possible that many of us simply don’t factor in all the necessary conditions to decide what contracts should be issued to whom.
But whatever the reason, the Chiefs blogosphere has been drastically low-balling franchise-tagged WR Dwayne Bowe. And I think many writers whom I respect are undervaluing Bowe’s talent — and I’m not sure why. It might be a legitimate fear of being bold: the Chiefs do not often hand out monster contracts, and recently have even been able to ink elite players like OLB Tamba Hali for nickels on the dollar. But Bowe’s agent is very, very tough, and Bowe’s talent is very, very great. And it’s time to get over whatever hesitations we have about signing over a massive contract, because Bowe deserves one here. We are on the brink of handing over the bank, folks.
This event horizon of money can mess with your head. Two of my favorite writers, Arrowhead Pride‘s Joel Thorman and AA’s very own Patrick Allen, might be suffering from that. Roughly a week ago, Thorman wrote the Chiefs should bypass a long-term deal for Bowe altogether, and should franchise him for two consecutive years, and release him into free agency. Not only is this Football Heresy, as Bowe has performed too well for too long to release into the waters of free agency, but it all but guarantees the Chiefs lose Branden Albert in free agency in 2013. (There is next-to-no chance Albert gets extended during the year — critical foundation players usually force the franchise tag, like Hali and Bowe have).
Then our very own Paddy suggests that Bowe should be signed for less than his talents warrant because he has issues, presumably of the character variety. Except that since his first 12 months with the team where he transitioned toward maturity, there have been virtually zero issues there. His transition to Haley’s offense was trying, but he rose to the challenge and, like ILB Derrick Johnson (who later received a payday), Bowe took to it like a fish to water, and has flirted with All Pro status ever since. Let’s not forget that Bowe has had the following quarterbacks pitching him the ball: Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, and Kyle Orton. That is not exactly a Who’s Who of elite quarterbacking. But Bowe has never complained. Instead, he’s often vocally supported his QB, and put up consistently strong-to-elite numbers no matter who’s been under center.
I was hoping this trend set by my friends Joel and Paddy was not being followed, but unfortunately it seems to be. It’s been suggested on AA that Bowe could be muscled out if second-year sensation WR Johnny Baldwin takes off. And even fans who have written that Bowe should be extended have pushed low-ball offers, like a 6 year, $50 million deal.
None of this will do in today’s NFL. Instead, I suggest we offer him a contract.
One he actually deserves.
Recent Receiver Deals
It’s not the easiest game to play, I’ll admit. Perhaps more than any other position, wide receiver is a really hard to gauge in terms of its worth to a football team. Over the past two offseasons, we’ve seen wide receivers earn contracts that rival quarterbacks and pass rushers. Larry Fitzgerald broke the bank in Arizona with an 8-year deal worth $120 million, with $50 million guaranteed. And Calvin “Megatron” Johnson received the largest payday in NFL history this offseason, a seven year deal worth $134 million, with $60 million of it guaranteed.
At the same time, the Pittsburgh Steelers dangled ultra-speedster Mike Wallace this offseason for a first rounder. Mike Wallace is undoubtedly first-round talent, but he wanted a bank-busting deal that the Steelers are still reluctanct to fork over. No team in the NFL took the Steelers up on the first round deal, and the Steelers were clearly uncomfortable with settling for anything less. (Rumors are that the Chiefs dangled Bowe for a first rounder as well, also unsuccessfully.) But Brandon Marshall, a humongous, athletic possession receiver with a parade of character flags, was departed with for two third rounders in a desperate effort to get him out of Miami.
So that’s four currently great talents at WR, with their values set all over the board. Bowe is himself a great talent, with no character issues to speak of (any complaints about his character were minor, and were years ago), who will give you roughly equal production to Wallace but pretty well shy of what Fitz and Megatron can do.
Staying on that point, it should be obvious to everybody, Bowe included, that he is not going to get Fitz and Megatron’s contracts. Both players put up better numbers even when they were playing with the likes of John Skelton and Drew Stanton under center.
But while Bowe cannot give you their future-Hall-of-Fame ability, he can give you something just as indispensible. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The Value Of The Receiver In The Modern NFL
It’s a passing league in the 21st century — this is not new news. What has become new news over the past five or so years is that the run game can no longer set it up.
The run game, for decades, has been invaluable in setting up the passing attack. By assaulting the line of scrimmage, your opponent is forced to suck up to it in order to provide your outnumbered defensive line against an attacking offensive line — plus tight ends, fullbacks, anybody else who is helping push the defense back. You suck the defense in to somehow stop the run, and bam! You find the best one-on-one matchup over the defense’s top, and attack that weakness for profit.
The problem is that the football field hasn’t gotten any bigger, but the players have. NFL defenses are loaded with freak athletes who are stronger than they’ve ever been and faster than they’ve ever been. As a result, playing the run game is less of a chore for the modern, Herculean NFL defense. Unless you have an absolutely lethal ground game, an NFL defense doesn’t have to do much radically to adjust to it.
Rule changes in the passing game, however, designed to give quarterbacks cleaner pockets and receivers more freedom, have more than made up for this difference. Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers all broke the single-season yardage record last year. Cam Newton set the rookie yardage record. Passing records fell like dominos the past few years.
Unlike the run game, defenses do have to radically adjust to the passing game, being pressured by freer quarterbacks to cover far more ground than they’ve had to before. By stretching the defense out and constantly threatening their secondaries, NFL back sevens have to fall back more and more rather than pressure the line of scrimmage. Keeping them on their heels opens up the attack on the ground. The pass, now, opens up the run game, not the other way around anymore.
Where Bowe Fits In All This
It should come as no surprise, then, that receivers have a worth that no non-QB position on the offense can match. Receivers are already given beaucoup advantages over their opponents in the secondary; the more talented and reliable a receiver is, the more havoc he creates on a defense, and the more he frees up the rest of his team.
There is almost no receiver more reliable in the past five years than Dwayne Bowe. Starting with his rookie year (not including the disastrous 2009 season where he missed 1/4 of the games), he has logged between 70 to 90 receptions with a nearly 14 YPC average. His speed and athleticism have long been underrated as fans focus on his strength. And the radius in which he can haul in a football seems to expand every year.
He runs every route on the tree. He goes over the middle. The first defender never brings him down. And he is an All World threat in the red zone. On top of all this, he has consistently been a positive influence in the locker room. Not a diva. Despite the fact he’s been playing at insane levels of skill for the past couple years, he has never held out on his dirt-cheap rookie contract.
Bowe is nearing the peak of his talents. And while it is clear that he is not a future Hall-of-Famer in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald, he is a reliable Pro Bowl talent year in and year out, with occasional All Pro upside. That ability to threaten defenses, and ability to be productive in an amazing variety of offenses with an amazing variety of quarterbacks, is indispensible. Dwayne Bowe must remain a Chief.
What A Fair Contract Looks Like
So I think Kansas City needs to lock him up well into his thirties. He deserves a 7-year deal, which is a nice, long deal that looks a lot like what the elite players at his position receive. The Chiefs can dump a ton of money on that 7th season on paper, to make the contract look much, much larger than it actually will be (a common practice in the NFL). Let’s say something like $15 million in that last year, giving the Chiefs the option to cut him before that 7th year if he wants (he’ll be 33 when that moment arrives).
As for his actual talent, I’d easily say the unique abilities he brings to this offense (especially when combined with Baldwin’s huge frame and glue-like hands on a cheap rookie contract for the next five years) are worth essentially what a pretty good QB contract is worth in this day and age, about $10 million a year.
What if Bowe wants more? What if he really is holding out for Megatron money? Well, even assuming Bowe was this deluded (and he’s not), we could easily entice him to play in 2012 for a first-year boost of $5 million, giving him a full $15 million that first year. The Chiefs have the cap space in 2012 — it’s not until 2013 when the situation starts tightening up financially, and Bowe’s contract will be back to $10 million/year at that point.
So that’s seven years, with $15 million on his first and last year of the contract, and his middle five years at $10 million a year. That’s a total of $80 million, and since the Megatron and Fitz deals guarantee a little over 40 percent of their contracts, that’d guarantee $34 million for Bowe.
That’s a retail deal for Bowe, and that tells the rest of the locker room exactly what they need to hear: abandon everything you knew before you entered this locker room, commit to the system, excel in the system, and you will be rewarded handsomely.
My final call: 7 years, $80 million, $34 million guaranteed.
Dwayne Bowe must remain a Kansas City Chief. This is the deal I would strike to make that happen.