Cleveland Browns receiver Dwayne Bowe has only been active for five games so far this season. While this isn't an uncommon situation, with every team around the league possessing marginal receivers who barely take the field, for the Browns, it's a strange one.
Bowe was signed in the offseason to a two-year, $12.5 million contract that included $9 million in guaranteed money with a total 2015 salary-cap hit of $4.5 million. He met extensively with Browns general manager Ray Farmer before he signed and was assured he'd be a significant part of the team's offensive plans. As Bowe said, via ESPN:
[Farmer] knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that. I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays.
|Dwayne Bowe, 2015|
|via Pro Football Focus|
A summertime hamstring strain seemed to put those plans off track for a time, but it looked like Bowe would, at some point, regain his footing as Cleveland's deep threat. But it has not come to pass, and with every healthy scratch, it appears Bowe is not only the Browns' worst signing of the offseason but one of the worst in the NFL as a whole.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bowe has played just 38 snaps this year and has appeared in no more than 15 plays in a single game. He's caught only three passes on nine targets for 31 yards. Even with myriad injuries suffered at the receiver position, he's not been able to get on the field. In fact, Terrelle Pryor, who had never played receiver before joining the Browns during the summer, got the nod over the healthy and experienced Bowe in Week 14.
In October, when head coach Mike Pettine told 92.3 The Fan (via Pro Football Talk) the "top four guys [at wide receiver] are entrenched," it made sense. Travis Benjamin, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Brian Hartline were playing well, and when combined with the receiving prowess of tight end Gary Barnidge and running back Duke Johnson, there wasn't much room for Bowe on the field.
But things have changed since then. Gabriel and Hawkins have both missed time with concussions, and Hawkins has been ruled out for Sunday's contest against the Seattle Seahawks, per Fred Greetham of the Orange and Brown Report.
Hartline's season is over after he suffered a collarbone fracture against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15. And yet the Browns would rather turn to Marlon Moore and Pryor over Bowe despite what the team opted to pay him for services they thought he could deliver.
And Bowe still believes that he can contribute, if given the opportunity. He did admit, though, he's frustrated by the lack of chances he's been given this year, saying to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
I've never been through anything like this in my life. It's the ultimate challenge. If something's not working, you might want to go to something else, but I'm a player, not a coach. I'm also a team player, so whatever they want to do, I'm all about that.
His disappointment, though, is hard to mask: "I thought it would be easy because I had a few guys I knew from Kansas City. But to get the same kind of supporting cast I had in Kansas City, you have to build that, and it's going to take more than one year."
Bowe did have some idea as to why he's not gotten the playing time he anticipated:
That hamstring injury. When I got hurt, it set me back as far as the coach getting to know what I can do and things like that. I just got so far behind in the playbook and they added most of the main content when I was out. When I was got back, they were so far ahead, and to go back for me would've set the whole offense back.
Still, that doesn't entirely explain away his many healthy scratches. For example, per Cabot, Pettine said that because Bowe "only plays the 'X' [receiver spot]" it limits how and when the offense can use him. But Pettine also activated Pryor after one week of playing the "X" even though that's a position Bowe has played for nearly his entire career.
It's possible Farmer overestimated Bowe's abilities at age 31. In November, Farmer said he didn't know whether he had "overrated" Bowe when he signed him, adding "it's our job, as the Browns, to try and get Dwayne as many catches and opportunities as he earns and deserves." The "earns and deserves" is worth latching onto here, because in the month between those comments and now, he must not have done either.
When a quarterback who switched to wide receiver just a few months ago is playing Bowe's position instead of Bowe, it raises red flags about Bowe's preparation, as well as his ability. By now, he should be caught up enough with the playbook that the time missed with his hamstring injury should no longer be a factor. Yet every week passes with Bowe on the sidelines.
Cleveland swung hard and missed when it comes to the Bowe signing. If numerous injured wideouts aren't enough to make Bowe active for games, then nothing will. The story of the Browns' worst offseason signing just keeps getting more baffling. But given his $8 million salary-cap hit for 2016—and the $4.6 million it will cost the team to cut him—Bowe may get another chance to prove himself in Cleveland next year, if only by default.