As NFL teams finished their minicamps last week and released their players and staffs for their “summer vacation” before training camps start in July and August, the Kansas City Chiefs were no exception.
With Justin Houston remaining the lone holdout from the team—Brandon Flowers was holding out prior to his release—it seems the entirety of the club is in full-on “team mode” heading into their final break before the season gets underway.
Despite his current contract uncertainties, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith returned to practice with his team last week to improve on the 11-5 season the Chiefs fielded a year ago. While Smith put up career numbers last season—3,313 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions—his so-called No. 1 receiver, Dwayne Bowe, was the worst he has been in his career.
Bowe is a bit of an enigma on the Chiefs. Three seasons ago, Bowe led all receivers—including guys named Calvin “Megatron” Johnson—in touchdowns. In fact, at one point during the 2010 season, Bowe was on pace to break the season touchdown record held by Randy Moss.
It was all the NFL could talk about. This story from Josh Looney at the Chiefs' own website sums up that run:
Seven weeks later, the thought of Bowe and/or Cassel sitting on the bench sounds foolish. The two have the hottest connection in the league over that same time frame; combining for 49 pass receptions with 733 yards and 13 TDs. Bowe is now the league’s touchdown leader, owns the highest single-season TD catch total in KC history and extended his team record with his seventh straight game with a TD catch on Sunday. Just yesterday, analysts on the NFL Network were debating if Bowe could break Moss’ TD catch record (23).
Despite the disappointing end to that season, there was a lot of hope in Kansas City. In one season, Bowe had nearly doubled his touchdown production from his first three years in the league.
However, as the disaster that was the 2011 Chiefs’ season began, many thought the epic run was a fluke.
Granted, Bowe’s statistical decline in 2011 wasn’t entirely his fault. The team suffered after star running back Jamaal Charles, starting tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry were lost for the season with torn ACLs after just the second week of the year.
The decline in the running game significantly hampered the Chiefs’ passing attack, as did injuries to quarterback Matt Cassel, forcing Tyler Palko into a starting role. As the 2011 season drew to a close, many wondered if Bowe had played his last snap in a Chiefs’ uniform.
Prior to the 2012 season, there was little news out of One Arrowhead Drive regarding a Bowe contract. While the Chiefs’ front office was tight-lipped under then-general manager Scott Pioli, there was absolutely no news leaking from the Chiefs in regards to Bowe’s contract.
Then, an hour before the March 5, 2012 deadline to designate a “franchise player,” the Chiefs guaranteed Bowe would play at least one more season in Kansas City:
"Today was the league's deadline to designate a franchise player and we felt it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs to place the tag on Dwayne," Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said in a three-paragraph statement released by the team.
During a season in which Bowe played under that franchise tag, earning a salary of nearly $9.5 million for a single season, he put in one of the worst performance of his career to that point, catching only 59 balls for 801 yards and only three touchdowns.
If anyone had to name a big reason why the Chiefs finished that season with the worst record in the NFL at 2-14, many pointed in Dwayne Bowe’s general direction.
Following an entire front office and coaching overhaul by the Chiefs organization following that 2012 season, many thought Bowe’s days in red and yellow were certainly over. After all, Bowe only totaled just 13 touchdowns and averaged only 877 yards over the seasons following his breakout year in 2010. He was certainly on a decline.
Combine his waning numbers with injury concerns—he finished the 2012 season on injured reserve with broken ribs—and that added to the speculation he was headed out of Kansas City.
As the franchise tag deadline grew close once again in 2013, there was vast speculation about what the Chiefs’ front office would do. Left tackle Branden Albert was also due for a huge payday as well. Just before the deadline once again, the NFL announced the Chiefs had just made Bowe the third highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Tuesday morning that Bowe now becomes the NFL's third highest-paid wide receiver in terms of total compensation on his contract. His deal is for $56 million over five years and includes $26 million in guaranteed money plus a $15 million signing bonus, according to someone who has seen the deal.
While the Chiefs did win their first nine games in a row last season, it wasn’t on the back of the offense, especially their passing game. The team won because of defense and Jamaal Charles.
However, an unusual thing happened after the team’s bye following a Week 9 win against the Buffalo Bills in which the team didn’t score a single offensive touchdown but won on a pick six by cornerback Sean Smith and scooped fumble by Tamba Hali. After that game, the offense started clicking while the defense declined.
It seemed head coach Andy Reid’s offense had finally instilled itself in the Chiefs players. Alex Smith was starting to trust in his receivers a bit more and not just hit his “check-down” read every single play. In fact, in the six games Bowe started after the bye—the majority of the Chiefs starters were held out of the Week 17 matchup against the San Diego Chargers—Bowe averaged 50 yards per game and had three touchdowns.
That was a 9-yard-per-game improvement over the first nine games.
While it wasn’t a legendary jump by any means, Bowe did finally come alive and earned at least a little of that massive $56 million contract in the Chiefs' playoff appearance against the Indianapolis Colts.
Bowe completely went off in that contest, catching eight balls for 150 yards and a touchdown. Still, a little of the old Dwayne showed through when he was unable to make it to the end zone after a 50-yard sprint down the field on a short crossing route.
The biggest disappointment, though, was his inability to stay inbounds on a sideline catch that would have put the Chiefs into field-goal range for the win.
It’s not just Bowe’s on-field inconsistencies that have caused many of his critics to raise their eyebrows. He’s had his fair share of issues off the field as well. During former head coach Todd Haley’s first year in Kansas City, Bowe was caught by the NFL’s Substance Abuse Program using a banned diuretic.
While the drug wasn’t “performance enhancing,” per se, according to Bowe’s agent, Todd France, it had a “negative effect under the league’s policy.”
"Dwayne did not take a steroid or any other performance-enhancing drug," France said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "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."
This infraction forced Bowe to sit out four games for the Chiefs in 2009 and put him in poor favor with Haley, a situation he never truly recovered from.
However, Bowe’s run-ins with banned substances and missteps didn’t end with Haley’s ousting from the Fountain City.
According to multiple sources, including The Kansas City Star’s Glenn E. Rice and Terez A. Paylor, Bowe was arrested for speeding and possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana on November 13, 2013 just days before the Chiefs’ pivotal matchup against the Denver Broncos.
While the charges against Bowe were ultimately amended to Bowe pleading guilty to defective equipment and littering, which he reportedly paid a $610 fine to atone for, and it appears that no discipline will be handed down from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, one can’t help but wonder about Bowe’s commitment to the team based on his choices.
Still, as the 2014 offseason has continued on, there is renewed hope, as there always is this time of year. Perhaps this year though, it’s a bit more warranted.
Bowe has reportedly shown up to OTAs in better shape than he’s been his entire career. This time, though, it’s not Bowe giving everyone the song and dance. According to Paylor, Reid was the first to point out that his best receiver is back and ready to play football.
“I think Dwayne came back in phenomenal shape, that’s one thing,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It looks like it out here. He’s really moving around well. Look forward to getting to camp where it actually counts, but he’s in the right frame of mind.”
It really does appear Bowe is in the right frame of mind. He’s doing all the right things—hiring a nutritionist and personal trainer on his own dime—and saying the right things, including talking about being a leader to the young receiving corps behind him on the depth chart.
“I’m just trying to be a leader all around, on and off the field or whatever it takes,” Bowe said. “Staying late, doing extra or showing the guys how to do it. Even in the study room, I get in my group, staying later, just showing them how to do it and how to be in control of it. That’s my main focus this year.”
As the team takes a break for the next month until the start of training camp and is without any “adult supervision,” one can only hope all these life lessons Bowe has had to learn will pay off. While last season he seemed to content to only get four receiving yards in a game, as long as the team was winning, his contribution will have to increase this year.
While the team winning a playoff game—something they haven't done in 21 years—and an eventual Super Bowl—something they haven't done in 44 years—Bowe has the chance to make some personal records this year.
Bowe has quietly moved up the rankings of all-time Chiefs receiving leaders. In fact, he is only 905 yards away from second place behind Henry Marshall and Otis Taylor. That puts him firmly behind the current holder of the Chiefs receiving crown: Tony Gonzalez.
Similarly, if Bowe could muster another season like 2010, he could easily find himself No. 2 all-time on the Chiefs' receiving touchdown ranking as well.
The NFL is an ever-evolving organism, and it would be naive to think that defensive coordinators will have a plan to slow down the Jamaal Charles-led Chiefs offense this season. If that’s the case, huge gains will have to be made in the passing game.
And that begins and ends with Dwayne Bowe.