The NFL deadline for applying the franchise tag is fast approaching on Monday, March 4, and the Kansas City Chiefs are still mulling over what they intend to do with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. Options range from giving Bowe the franchise tag again (which results in Bowe receiving 120 percent of his 2012 salary), signing him to a long-term contract or allowing Bowe to test the free-agent market.
Of those three options, what is the best choice for the Chiefs from a short-term (2013 season only) and long-term perspective? Part of the challenge for new Kansas City head coach Andy Reid is to revamp a passing offense that was ranked dead last in the NFL in 2012.
Reading the tea leaves is difficult since nobody knows for sure who will be the Chiefs' starting quarterback in 2013. The decision might be to let Bowe walk if the quarterback is Matt Cassel, but they would probably want to keep Bowe if the starter turns out to be Alex Smith or Nick Foles.
The latest and greatest buzz from Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports states that Kansas City is one of the teams that has expressed interest in trying to swing a trade with San Francisco for Smith.
If the deal can be completed, Smith would be following in the footsteps of Joe Montana, who also went from the 49ers to the Chiefs. If the teams can agree on a deal, the earliest date that the trade can be announced is March 12.
What is unfortunate about that restriction is that the Chiefs will have to make their decision on Bowe at least one week earlier. It is conceivable that the Chiefs could put the franchise tag on Bowe, only to see another team step in prior to March 12 and make the 49ers a better offer for Smith. Then the Chiefs would be sitting there with an expensive wide receiver and no clear starting QB to throw him the ball.
Another possible trade scenario would involve Coach Reid's old team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick has restructured his contract, which frees up Nick Foles for a potential trade. Mike Garafolo of USA Today Sports wrote that the Eagles and Chiefs have already had trade discussions about Foles.
At this juncture, either Smith or Foles would be viewed as an upgrade over Matt Cassel, who has been steadily heading downhill with his production in the last two years. If the Chiefs are led to believe that they have a deal in place, this bodes well for Bowe to remain in Kansas City. Why would you trade for a new starting quarterback but not provide him with a No. 1 wide receiver to throw the ball to?
As for Cassel, he did manage to come up with a solid 2010 campaign, when he threw for 27 touchdown passes compared to only seven interceptions. He finished the year with a 93.0 passer rating and was ranked as the No. 8 quarterback in the NFL. Cassel's rating plunged to 76.6 in 2011, and then dropped again to 66.7 in 2012. His ranking subsequently dropped from No. 8 to No. 25 and then to No. 32.
In 2012, Cassel threw twice as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (six). He failed to complete at least 60 percent of his passes in any of the past three years. In 2012, he ranked dead last in the NFL for passer rating, and was No. 32 out of a possible 36 quarterbacks in Total QBR. Clearly, it is time for the Chiefs to make a clean break from Cassel and turn the page.
What Kind of Trouble Would the Chiefs' Passing Attack be in, if Bowe Leaves the Team?
To answer that question, let's examine the results of the last three years of production from the Kansas City wide receivers to get a better idea of what Coach Reid has to work with.
From 2010 through the 2012 seasons, the only Chiefs wide receiver to top 1,000 yards is Bowe. He accomplished the feat in both 2010 and 2011. The only other player that topped 600 yards in receptions during that time period was Steve Breaston, who gained 785 yards in 2011. After a terrible 2012, the Chiefs released Breaston last week.
The only other receiver that has gained 500 yards in receptions in the last three years was tight end Tony Moeaki, as he picked up 556 yards in 2010. Moeaki hasn't topped that mark in the last two years.
The Chiefs passing attack was so bad in 2012 that Bowe led the team with just three touchdown receptions. He was the only player to catch more than one touchdown pass for the entire season. The Chiefs only had eight touchdown passes for the entire season, averaging one touchdown pass for every two games.
The eight touchdown passes is the fewest amount thrown by any NFL team in the last six years. It was so bad that who could really blame Bowe for not wanting to come back?
Wide receiver Jon Baldwin was a first-round draft pick in the 2011 NFL draft. But in his first two seasons in Kansas City, Baldwin has only caught one touchdown pass per year. He caught 21 passes as a rookie, only to see that total slip to 20 in 2012. Baldwin has managed just eight catches for 20-plus yards so far in his first two NFL seasons. That isn't the kind of production that the Chiefs envisioned.
Who would lead the Chiefs wide receivers if Bowe were allowed to walk? With the release of Breaston, the only remaining receivers of note would be Dexter McCluster and Baldwin. McCluster seems to be the master of the short-yardage pass, as he has only averaged 8.7 and 7.1 yards per reception over the last two years. Neither returning player would be striking fear in opposing secondaries.
The negative issues for giving Bowe the franchise tag for two years in a row are limited.
Bowe earned $9.4 million in 2012, so the Chiefs would have to pay Bowe roughly $11 million in 2013. That would still allow the Chiefs to sign Bowe to a long-term deal in negotiations, which they weren't able to do in 2012. The $11 million is a lot of money to pay a wide receiver on a team that doesn't throw the ball very well.
The other negative is over the speculation that handing Bowe a five-year deal for $55 million would turn him into a lazy, fat cat. Nobody knows that for sure, but teams are concerned that Bowe's effort would decrease if he was given a big contract, as per this article by Don Banks of Sports Illustrated.
So, as we work our way through the Chiefs weapons, or lack of them, it becomes increasingly vital for Kansas City to not let Bowe leave town. That means that you either sign him to a long-term deal or you put the franchise tag on him and don't make any apologies for doing it.
What Are the Other Options for Kansas City with the Franchise Tag if it Doesn't Use it on Dwayne Bowe?
Ex-Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli was a frequent guest on the set of the NFL Network's broadcast team at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Pioli was asked what he thought Kansas City would do with their franchise tag. He responded with, "I think the Chiefs will give the franchise tag to Dwayne Bowe and they will let tackle Branden Albert walk."
Whether or not things play out that way remains to be seen, but you would like to think that Pioli has some kind of idea what the Chiefs intend to do.
Albert has been dealing with some health issues with his back, so the Chiefs are hesitant to pay Albert franchise-tag money if he isn't totally healthy. That just doesn't make sense.
Based on what happens with Bowe, expect to see the Chiefs add another wide receiver or two at the 2013 NFL draft. The 2013 draft class exhibited some talented wide receivers at the combine, so there are definitely some players the Chiefs can target with their high draft picks in every round.
If Bowe is on board, he could then teach the new receivers what life is like in the AFC West. Bowe could give the rookies an education on AFC West division secondaries and teach them a few tricks of the trade. That kind of experience is invaluable.
The other way to look at the Bowe scenario is to ask the following question: Imagine how many teams would bring up eight defenders in the box to stop Jamaal Charles if Bowe wasn't there to extend defenses in 2013?
The evidence supports the Chiefs slapping Bowe with the franchise tag again in 2013. What happens after that is open for debate.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com
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