WR Dwayne Bowe is the Chiefs' most important player. He might not be the highest paid or even the best player in Kansas City, nor does he play a position that’s the most vital to the team’s success. But because he has a skill set that nobody else on the roster has, and plays in a scheme that utilizes his talents perfectly, his presence on the depth chart is more important than anybody else in a Chiefs uniform.
With that in mind, one would think the team would be eager to sign Bowe, who turns 28 in September, to a long-term contract. Based on statistics alone, he has earned it. Since the start of 2010, only six wide receivers have totaled more than Bowe's 2,321 yards, and only two (Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings) have caught more than his 20 touchdowns. Playing in an offense that was as stable as a Jenga tower last year, he still came to play every week, finishing with more than 70 catches and 1,000 yards for the third season in his career. In 2012, with QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles and TE Tony Moeaki back in the lineup, and the Chiefs’ offensive line much improved, Bowe’s stats could be even better.
Problem is, the Chiefs seem to be in no hurry to give Bowe the contract extension his statistics imply he has earned. The team placed the franchise tag on him in early March, preventing him from really testing the free-agent market. Bowe has yet to sign the offer, which would guarantee him $9.515 million for the upcoming season. Instead he’s holding out, hoping to work out the long-term deal he desires.
For Bowe, the decision to take his time and not rush into signing the franchise tender makes sense. His only leverage to earn a long-term contract is to make the team desperate for his talents. Without their big-play wideout, the Chiefs' offense is below-average with no proven playmakers. There are players like Charles and Moeaki, who are both coming off serious ACL tears, and 2011 first-round pick WR Jon Baldwin, who didn’t exactly make a great first impression a year ago. If Bowe continues his holdout into the 2012 season, K.C.’s attack is in big trouble. The receiver is hoping that the team realizes this before it’s too late and opts to pay him for his skills.
For the Chiefs' front office, their choice to not extend Bowe long-term is also wise. Though talented — and clearly valuable — Bowe hasn’t exactly proven himself to be an elite player. His numbers might be nice, but team insiders are worried that he doesn't always put out a maximum effort, and few would put Bowe in the same class as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Greg Jennings and Roddy White, some of the players who have posted similar stats the past two seasons.
Bowe is a No. 1 receiver, but not the type of impact playmaker that keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night pondering how to stop him. Proceeding with caution when it comes to guaranteeing years and dollars is the right choice of action from team management until Bowe proves himself to be dominant on a more consistent basis.
He has until July 16 to work out a new contract with the Chiefs or else be forced into signing the franchise tender. Two other wideouts were franchised this offseason — DeSean Jackson of the Eagles and Wes Welker of the Patriots. Jackson agreed to a five-year extension in mid-March; Welker signed his franchise tag on Tuesday. That leaves Bowe as the only one left in limbo. He has said that he wants to stay in Kansas City. The team has said it wants Bowe in Kansas City, for at least the upcoming season. That’s where the agreement between the two sides ends.
However, unless one of the sides budges and agrees to what the other is proposing, either in signing the one-year contract or agreeing to a long-term deal, the most valuable player on the roster might be on the sideline when it really counts, a worst-case scenario for the Chiefs.