The Kansas City Chiefs are looking forward to a 2012 NFL season that they hope will fare much better than the 2011 version. Impact players like Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry are healthy again and new faces like Eric Winston and Peyton Hillis help the team at positions of need. Expectations are high in KC and they should be given the overall talent on the roster from top to bottom.
But one player remains absent from training camp in St. Joseph and it just so happens to be the key player for the Chiefs passing game for each of the last five seasons. With 4,927 receiving yards in the last half-decade, there's no denying that Bowe isn't just the best receiver for the Chiefs in the last several years, but rather he's on a career pace to become the best in team history. Despite a down year in 2009 where he started only 9 games, Bowe's numbers hold up against the best in the NFL.
However Bowe is absent due to his own choices that neither he nor the team will officially discuss at this time. As Bowe became eligible for free agency earlier this offseason, Scott Pioli and the front office decided to place the franchise tag on Bowe. At that point, Bowe had only two options ahead of him: sign the tender and make a salary around $9.5 million or come to a long-term agreement.
The deadline for such a long-term agreement, at least before the 2012 season plays out, was a few weeks ago in mid-July, so now Bowe's choices are down to just one. He must play out the 2012 season and there's little doubt that, at some point, Bowe will report and join the Chiefs offense.
But there's a lot at stake for Bowe this season. If he wants a long-term deal via the Chiefs or the open market, there's little to be gained by a holdout right now. People tend to remember the negatives much more than the positives and Bowe himself should realize just how much his diva reputation from his rookie season has stayed with him throughout his career.
The team has also moved on with a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, which means every player has new terminology, a new playbook and new schemes to learn. As talented as Bowe is, he's got to know which routes to run, which blocks to take on and so forth. Getting into camp would help alleviate the learning curve he might have to go through during the actual NFL season.
For these reasons, many people affiliated with the Chiefs have begun to move on -- both fans and media. The reason is clear: the Chiefs have another top wideout option who looks like a safe bet to break out in Jon Baldwin. With his acrobatic catches and first round potential, there's good reason to devote a lot of column space and attention on a player like Baldwin. But it also means that people are starting to write off Bowe.
Baldwin might very well break out and turn into a solid red zone target. However until those circus catches come in the regular season against top flight corners in actual game time, it means very little. For now the only stats of Baldwin that truly count are the 254 receiving yards from last season. For those who are counting, that's 905 yards less than Bowe.
This isn't a knock on Baldwin. It's my personal belief he will develop into a great receiver and could eventually supplant Bowe as the Chiefs top target in the passing game if KC ever moves on from Bowe. But for now, Baldwin will still be second fiddle to a guy like Bowe, and the Chiefs will need both of them to succeed on the field.
Somehow this has been lost. Somehow stories are circulating that Baldwin makes it easy for the Chiefs to forget about Bowe's absence in camp. Somehow fans are ready to forget an elite level receiver over a bit of drama and the flash of something new and shiny.
Evan Silva of Pro Football Talk illustrates this point when he heard people talking about moving on from talents like Bowe or Maurice Jones-Drew, who is holding out from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Have seen it written in KC that Chiefs don't miss Bowe. Same on MJD in JAX. Like Baldwin & Jennings, but those ideas seem pretty delusional.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) August 3, 2012
Bowe is huge diff maker. Has been highly productive with so many factors working against him. Horrific QB play. He is a beast FB player.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) August 3, 2012
While it's all well and good to praise Baldwin for the future potential clearly on display in OTAs and now in training camp, it's also important to realize that Bowe is still as necessary as ever -- Baldwin or no Baldwin. There's a reason that the Chiefs best defender Tamba Hali broke any silence about the issue at training camp and said very clearly that the team needed Bowe on the team if they wanted to be serious about any postseason hopes.
The Chiefs had the No. 29 scoring offense in the NFL in 2011, so it should be obvious that they will need as many weapons as they can find. The return of Charles is the main step, but the adjustment of Bowe to the new offense is going to be a close second. The emergence of Baldwin, the bolstering of the line, and the additions of Eric Winston and Kevin Boss are all noteworthy. Together, including Bowe, the Chiefs can turn the corner and make their offense something to fear.