When the Cleveland Browns signed veteran free-agent receiver Dwayne Bowe in March, the expectation was that he would serve as the team's big-play home run hitter.
Though the 6'2" receiver turned 31 years old in September, the age didn't concern the Browns—all they saw was a very capable and tall receiver looking for a chance to be the difference-maker he once was for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bowe had high expectations for himself as well, tellling reporters in July that he was there replace the suspended Josh Gordon, calling Gordon "the touchdown man," and adding, "I'm here to fill his shoes. It's my job to do that in this offense, and I believe I can do that."
Bowe was hoping to bring to the Browns the version of himself that the Chiefs experienced back in 2010, Bowe's best season as a pro, one in which he caught 72 passes for 1,162 yards and 15 scores. But now, five games into the 2015 regular season, Bowe looks like he'll be lucky to catch 15 passes for 72 yards this year.
|Dwayne Bowe, 2015|
|via Pro Football Focus|
The problems began in early August, when Bowe suffered a hamstring injury that was initially thought to be relatively minor. But the injury kept him off the field for much of the team's training camp and preseason and through Week 1 of the regular season.
And, for Bowe, the problems continued even when he became healthy, because suddenly it appeared the Browns did not need him. For Cleveland, this is both a good and bad problem to have.
It's good because the Browns have been able to identify a crew of receivers that have made Bowe's absence more than merely tolerable. Travis Benjamin, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Brian Hartline have handled the majority of the wide receiver snaps so far this season, while tight end Gary Barnidge and running backs Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell have all contributed triple-digit receiving yards of their own.
Bowe's injury has put him behind in his understanding of the Browns' offensive playbook. While he can study, sit in on meetings and take mental reps, there's no substitute for doing on-field work. And while he was sidelined, other players have stepped up. And though Bowe is healthy now, none are struggling enough to force one off the field to put Bowe on it.
As such, Bowe has appeared in only two games for the Browns—against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 and against the San Diego Chargers in Week 4. In Weeks 3 and 5, Bowe has been a healthy scratch.
And when he has been on the field, his impact has been almost nil. According to Pro Football Focus, Bowe played eight of a possible 49 snaps against the Titans and just four of a possible 74 against the Chargers. He's seen two passing targets—one per game—and has zero receptions.
But while it is good news that the Browns have found players who can more than adequately make plays and that they don't particularly need Bowe right now, it's also bad news that Bowe hasn't been more involved in the offense thus far.
|Browns' Receiving Leaders Through Week 5|
Mainly, this is because of the two-year, $12.5 million contract they signed him to in the spring, one that includes $9 million in guaranteed money, according to Spotrac. Currently, Bowe is costing the Browns $4.5 million in salary cap, with $2.65 million in salary, a $1.75 million signing bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus.
His salary this year is fully guaranteed, as is his total signing bonus, worth $3.5 million over two years. Next year, his cap hit goes up to $8 million total if his services are retained, but the dead money should he be cut is only $4.6 million, because just $2.85 million of his $6.15 million salary is guaranteed in 2016, plus the final $1.75 million he's owed in signing bonus.
Because the Browns were so cash-flush this offseason and project to remain that way in 2016, the dollar-for-dollar cost of keeping Bowe on the bench this year doesn't seem all that expensive. But no team would like to commit that many millions of dollars—and such a high guaranteed-money percentage—to someone who ends up not contributing, even when healthy.
Essentially, Bowe is nothing more than a sunken cost right now. And more than that, he's another conspicuous swing-and-miss for Browns general manager Ray Farmer. Bowe is the second-highest paid receiver on the Browns' roster this year (behind Hawkins by $500,000 dollars), according to Spotrac, and has proved to be unnecessary after so many other members of Cleveland's offense have stepped up and over him on the depth chart.
No team, no matter how much salary-cap room it has to work with, wants to sign a free agent to a relatively expensive contract like Bowe's and then not get any production out of him. It's one thing if Bowe were still hurt; it's another altogether that he's been healthy and inactive for two of the Browns' five games and barely a participant in two others.
And we have no idea how Bowe would perform if given an expanded opportunity. Maybe he could fill that Gordon-like role, but apparently his coaches don't think so, or else he'd be active on game days and playing more than a handful of snaps when he is.
Bowe is not the man the Browns thought he was when they signed him, which makes for an expensive mistake. But at least the Browns also have more than enough receivers and other offensive skill players to make Bowe's disappointing start to the season easy to weather.
It's not ideal that he's costing so much to be on the bench, but since the Browns have enough talent, it's a bit less painful that Bowe hasn't lived up to expectations.