After a summer of wrangling, a string of missed preseason workouts, and scores of unnecessary ulcers across Chiefs nation, Dwayne Bowe is finally in pads and practicing. Players hardly ever garner sympathy from fans for holding out (we want our team’s players to commit to playing for small amounts so we can afford other superstars, and they damn well better not miss any practice time that threatens team success), and the past month failed to win Bowe any support as his actions were viewed as a selfish excuse to avoid training camp. If I were Bowe, I too would lack desire to stay in a cramped dorm room for no pay (Bowe couldn’t be fined for not attending camp because he wasn’t on contract, so there was no financial incentive for him to show up). However, I’m a fan that wants what’s best for the Chiefs, so I get to deem his actions selfish. That’s the way the sports world works. Yet as much as it hurts to say, there is a chance Bowe won’t be suiting up in red and gold next year. The odds of this scenario playing out rest on a few important questions:
Can Jon Baldwin Be a #1 Wide Receiver?
The Chiefs would only be willing to part with Bowe if they believe Baldwin can step up and replace him, and there are many reasons to believe he can be a successful #1. He’s 6-4 with speed. He displayed tremendous acrobatic skills at Pitt where attitude concerns, not playing ability, prevented him from being drafted earlier than 26th. Some of last year’s lack of production can be attributed to the infamous wrist injury that caused him to miss the preseason and part of the regular season. Plus, wide receivers typically need a year to break out anyway (Bowe being an exception* to this rule).
Of course, there’s one quick response to these declarations: prove it. Sports fans are notoriously subject to groupthink, and every message board out there has someone proclaiming Baldwin will have a breakout season based on a pretty catch they heard he made in training camp. He may have 55 catches for 700 yards this year, and if he did I wouldn’t be overly surprised, but I need to see it to believe it. He was targeted 52 times in 2011 but only hauled in 21 catches – by far the worst ratio on the team. Forgive me if my confidence still needs some reinforcement.
*As a side note, Bowe’s exceptional rookie season in 2007 (70 receptions, 995 yards) may have been a function of both his talents and his teammates’ lack of’ ‘em. The Chiefs’ #2 and #3 WRs were Jeff Webb and Samie Parker. You haven’t heard of these guys recently because they’re playing in the United Football League and Canadian Football League, respectively. Bowe caught passes partially because he and Tony Gonzalez were the only viable targets on the field to throw to.
What Does This Do to the Rest of the Depth Chart?
With Baldwin at #1, Breaston returns to the second receiving option and McCluster moves into the slot. With Wylie in the mix, this becomes a much shorter (literally) receiving crew. If the Chiefs don’t pick up another solid receiver, this unit goes from one of the most exciting in the league to one of the most pedestrian faster than a Shaun Draughn stutter step. You’re excited for this offense because of the myriad weapons it will employ, and Bowe is a very necessary part of the equation.
Can Bowe’s Salary Demands Buy Something Better?
We don’t know what each side’s final offer was, but it appears Bowe was demanding Larry Fitzgerald money while offering slightly less than Fitzgerald skills. However, salary decisions are based on a cost-benefit analysis and I don’t see anyone who offers the same or greater benefit for the same or lower cost. Assuming Hillis has a solid season he will demand more than his current contract, and the Chiefs will be faced with a choice of whether to pay top dollar for the privilege of a change-of-pace back. Another elite linebacker could make the defense hella-fun (James Laurinaitis is available next year — how friggin’ awesome would it be to pair him inside next to Hali, Houston, and Johnson!?). The recent Kendrick Lewis and Brandon Flowers injuries suggest another starting caliber defensive back would be a good investment. A host of receivers will also be available, though none would provide an upgrade from Bowe. Additionally, we can all cross our fingers and wish really, really hard for Flacco to suddenly become discontent and not resign with Baltimore. In the end, I look at the list of upcoming free agents and nothing really stands out to me. A couple first round draft picks can always be traded for an expensive star, but short of this, there aren’t a lot of investments for the Chiefs to spend their sizable cap space on that offer a solid upgrade over the current starters. And with $15 million to play with, the Chiefs can probably afford to resign Bowe, resign Hillis, and bring in a roster addition.
Does Bowe Even Want to Stay in Kansas City?
Although photos of a #82 Dodge Charger began circulating the internet last month, it’s unknown if this was a recent purchase or came out of a garage during the Herman Edwards era. Bowe is a certifiable star in the area and hasn’t caused a lot of trouble for the franchise. There are also a host of reasons anyone would want to play in Kansas City: players love Crennel; the opportunity to win playoff games now; the youth to suggest staying power; the fan base. It’s true Kansas City will never offer the glitz of New York or the franchise history of Dallas (see Brandon Carr). However, there’s no indication Bowe is dissatisfied with the Chiefs; he just wanted more guaranteed money over the long term. If Bowe truly wanted out, he could have made these intentions clear to see what other teams would bite.
Because he was designated a non-exclusive franchise player, Bowe may negotiate with other NFL teams but the Chiefs have the option of matching any offer or receiving two first round picks as compensation for losing Bowe. I doubt there are many teams willing to offer more than the Chiefs would be willing to match right now, which would make Bowe wait to shop around his services until the Chiefs don’t have the option of matching opposition offers if he really wanted out.
The answers to the questions above are Probably, Yikes, Unlikely, and Why Not? Of course, this is a moot point if Kansas City simply franchises him a second straight year (bonus: AA gets to recycle this article by simply changing the title to “Will Dwayne Bowe Be a Chief in 2014?”). If they can afford it, there’s no good reason the Chiefs shouldn’t just have two #1 talents at wide receiver. I also think the number of weapons on this team will hurt Bowe’s production, which should hold down his value and decrease his leverage. In the end, it’s hard to see Bowe playing somewhere else in 2013 because the Chiefs can afford to keep him, and they can’t afford to lose him.