Unpacking Dwayne Bowe's Baggage Concerns Heading into Free Agency

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IFebruary 11, 2013

Regardless of what list of 2013 free agent rankings you're looking at, Kansas City Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe will be near the top at his position.

Vastly talented, productive in spite of difficult quarterback situations and possessing the size and speed every team wants in a No. 1 receiver, Bowe should make millions as an unrestricted free agent this spring. 

However, that hasn't stopped some from questioning what kind of player he'll be after getting such a contract. After all, Bowe doesn't come without some baggage included.

One NFL scout wasn't afraid to voice a similar opinion to Peter King of Sports Illustrated

"I am scared to death of Dwayne Bowe," the scout said. "Like him a lot, but not sure what we'd be buying if we signed him. Too much baggage."

Baggage can be a very subjective term. What scares one organization won't necessarily be a major concern for another, especially when it comes to a player as talented (at least 995 receiving yards each season in which he played more than 11 games) as Bowe.

The opinion of this lone scout is unlikely to be shared by the scouting staffs of 31 other NFL teams, and, in the coming months, Bowe is certain to be signing a big deal.

Maybe, the bigger question here is why the overall opinion of Bowe continues to include worries about baggage. The 28-year-old receiver has never been arrested, a feat in this age of professional sports that is almost worthy of celebration.

That said, Bowe will enter free agency with legitimate concerns. Even if his talent overrides most (if not all) of the baggage, his story is still something worth chewing on for the NFL general managers ready to offer him millions and millions of guaranteed money this spring. 


Conditioning and Work Ethic Concerns

For two years under head coach Herm Edwards, the Chiefs had the makings of an elite receiver in the young Bowe. Drafted in the first round in 2007, Bowe caught 136 passes—including a franchise-record for receivers with 86 in 2008—for 2,017 yards and 12 touchdowns over his first 32 games. 

After 2008, Edwards was out as the head man in Kansas City. In came Todd Haley, a widely respected offensive mind who brought an affinity for the receiver position but also a tough-love attitude. 

Bowe, an emerging receiver expected to take full advantage of the coaching change, started 2009 in the coaching doghouse. 

When Bowe reported to offseason workouts overweight, Haley made him pay. The new head coach expected his team in better shape, and Bowe was made out to be that change's proving point. Instead of running with the first-team offense, Bowe began the preseason buried on the depth chart as a third-teamer. 

From Pro Football Talk:

Five Kansas City wide receivers played in the first quarter of Saturday night’s preseason game against the Texans, and Dwayne Bowe wasn’t one of them.

Despite averaging over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons, Chiefs coach Todd Haley continues to try to send a message to Bowe because Haley isn’t happy with Bowe’s work habits.

Slowly, the force-feeding of humble pie worked. Bowe won back his starting job to open the 2009 season. 

But just as quickly as Bowe rebounded, the star wideout had begun to carve out a reputation for as a diva who fails to put in the necessary work. Concerns about his work ethic and ability to stay in shape to begin seasons have remained.

Certainly, you wonder if Bowe's conditioning concerns were part of the reason why Kansas City balked at giving the receiver a big deal last summer. 


PED Suspension

Clashes over his work ethic starting to enter the rear view mirror, Bowe looked ready to emerge in 2009 as one of the NFL's best receivers. He began the season with a team-high 33 catches in nine games, but the NFL banned Bowe for four games when he tested positive for a banned substance. 

Originally thought to be a steroid, Bowe's agent claimed the substance to be a weight loss supplement, according to ESPN.

Dwayne did not take a steroid or any other performance-enhancing drug. However he took a diuretic for weight loss, which unfortunately has a negative effect under the league's policy. Dwayne is sincerely disappointed and apologetic that he let down the Chiefs organization, his teammates and the fans. He looks forward to returning and putting this situation behind him.

Bowe did not appeal the suspension and missed four games from Week 11 to 14. The disappointing Chiefs finished 4-12 and Bowe caught just 47 passes for 589 yards. Both figures represented new career lows. 


Drop Problems

Despite being blessed with the raw physical skills that would make most NFL receivers envious, Bowe has continually suffered problems with drops. 

According to Pro Football Focus, only three receivers had more drops on catchable passes from 2008-2012 than Bowe's 26. His drop rate of 11.56 percent represented the ninth highest among receivers. 

In 2012, Bowe dropped six passes.

A few notable examples of Bowe's drops stick out:

  • Four drops in the 2008 season opener against the New England Patriots. A catch on his last drop would have tied the game in the fourth quarter.
  • In Week 11 of 2008, Bowe matched his career high in drops with four against the New Orleans Saints. He caught just seven of the 16 passes thrown his way.
  • Also in 2008, Bowe dropped what would have been a game-clinching onside kick against the San Diego Chargers. San Diego recovered the bobble and went on to win. 
  • Twice in 2009, Bowe finished a game with three drops. In Week 15, his first game back from his suspension, Bowe dropped three passes and caught four of 11 targets.
  • A difficult start to his 2010 season was highlighted by a two-drop performance against the Indianapolis Colts. One drop came on a potential game-winning sequence in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs losing. 
  • In 2011, Bowe dropped passes in 10 of the 16 games he played.

Kansas City Star beat writer Adam Teicher told ESPN 710 that Bowe had "cost" the Chiefs games with drops in the past.

"He's dropped some big passes for them that have cost them games over the years. He's just not a real reliable guy," Teicher said, also pinpointing hand placement and concentration as two reasons he has been plagued by drops.


Immaturity Issues 

Now 28, Bowe can no longer use the "immature" excuse. For the majority of beginnings in Kansas City, however, that label rightfully stuck with Bowe. 

In 2010, Bowe told ESPN Magazine about a system in which players on the Chiefs used to meet women during road trips. The comments were clearly over the line. 

Pro Football Talk recorded the incident. Bow commented:

My rookie year, we were playing in San Diego. You hear stories about groupies hanging out in hotel lobbies, but some of my teammates had it set up so there was a girl in every room.  The older guys get on MySpace and Facebook a week before we go to a city; when a pretty one writes back, they arrange to fly her in three or four days in advance. They call it importing.

There's being candid with the media, and then there's this. Somethings should stay in-house, and this was clearly one of them. Bowe should have kept quiet.

Last season, information was leaked to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports that Bowe wanted out of Kansas City "very badly." Bowe would later deny the comments, but the idea was still another damaging part of the Bowe story.


Clearly, Bowe will enter free agency in 2013 with some baggage, a buyer-beware label. Most free agents do not come without significant issues; teams wouldn't be willing to risk an asset going elsewhere. There's a reason why Bowe wasn't re-signed to a long deal last spring and he might be given the chance to leave Kansas City next month.

Red flags that include work ethic, conditioning, drops, a substance suspension and immaturity concerns are more than what most of the top players in the 2013 free-agent class will bring. 

Of course, that "baggage" can be interpreted in different degrees by different decision-makers.

Bowe is going to get a big deal on the free-agent market this spring, but the scout that voiced his concerns to Peter King has a legitimate point.

Whichever team signs Dwayne Bowe to a big deal with millions guaranteed must cross their fingers and hope to get more of the vastly talented receiver than the out-of-shape, lazy and drop-prone diva he has been at times. 


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