KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The first bit of good news this Chiefs offseason came from a calm, confident and (honest) humble Dwayne Bowe.
“I have a personal trainer and nutritionist,” he said on the first day of voluntary offseason workouts.
Bowe spent about seven minutes talking to a room full of reporters, and there is a lot to digest, but the biggest takeaway comes from this subtle mention.
We are more than four months from a real game, and if you can’t be optimistic at this point you should probably find something else to do in the fall. But there just might be something real here with Bowe, as important to the Chiefs’ chances of following up a 2013 playoff spot as anyone.
A year ago, Bowe signed a five-year contract worth $56 million, including $26 million in guarantees. He also spent the offseason in something like a dreamland, telling people he was going to lead the league in catches.
Instead, Bowe had the worst season of his career — 57 catches for 673 yards and just five touchdowns. Bowe and others can talk all they want about his blocking, but he’s not the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid receiver for his downfield blocking.
Bowe looked a half-step slower. He’s never been a deep threat, but he seemed to wear cornerbacks like fur coats, struggling to create separation or passing lanes for quarterback Alex Smith — even against more single coverage than he’s typically drawn. The arrest in November for marijuana possession, while certainly not a huge deal, didn’t add to a fading confidence.
Against that backdrop, the message was communicated to Bowe that he’d better get right for 2014. If his focus faded after signing the big contract, it’s time to remember how he earned the money. If his conditioning faded after being treated like a star, it’s time to remember that there are few more damning labels in sports than lazy.
Here, then, is a real indication that Bowe has received that message.
This is an established star already paid millions and guaranteed millions more, choosing a new path in hopes of regaining old form. It’s worth noting that Bowe did not bring up his hiring a personal trainer and nutritionist. And, actually, it took three questions about his offseason before he mentioned it. He talked much more about working hard, being with his teammates, and focusing more on wins than individual statistics.
He declined to give any personal predictions, or even whether he’d like the Chiefs to draft a receiver. Really, the only disappointing moment came when he didn’t take responsibility for the arrest, saying, “you can be guilty by association.”
This is, in other words, a very different guy than a year ago.
Some of this is the natural evolution of both a man and football player. Bowe will turn 30 on the third Sunday of the NFL season, and he knows what happens to receivers in their 30s. But some of it, too, may be a man with generational wealth appreciating that there is a greater football purpose here that he can finally be a part of. He’s only played in two playoff games, and both ended with thuds.
In general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid, Bowe is playing for his third different leadership group. Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards made it harder for everyone who followed, essentially enabling Bowe and his desire to be called “The Show” and treated like a star before he earned it. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley overcompensated, subtly cutting him down (nobody was allowed to call him anything but “Dwayne”) and treating him like a teenager (at one point, a PR staffer was assigned to effectively hold his hand during interviews).
Dorsey and Reid are treating Bowe like an adult, letting him work hard and express himself, trusting that a late maturity will continue to develop.
Bowe’s production slowed in 2013, which is the most important thing, but he may have had his best season as a teammate. He is beloved in the locker room, and his football intellect trusted enough that Reid adjusted play calls based on Bowe’s observations (one in particular turned into a wide-open touchdown for Dexter McCluster).
That’s all nice enough to hear, but Bowe is being paid and counted on to catch a lot of passes for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns. Bowe led the NFL with 15 touchdown catches in 2010 with Matt Cassel as his quarterback, a remarkable accomplishment. Getting that level of production back is particularly important to this current Chiefs’ push because his current contract is on Dorsey, not Pioli.
Barring a blockbuster trade to acquire draft picks and cap space, the Chiefs’ biggest improvements will have to come internally. Most of that means a young roster maturing, but it also could be an aging receiver taking the next step to improve. No Chiefs player has a greater gap between their 2013 production and what they’ve proven themselves capable of doing.
Hiring a personal trainer and nutritionist is a subtle but strong sign that Bowe is taking the message from the front office seriously, and the first real bit of positive news this offseason.
And as long as we’re talking about positive signs, you might remember that Bowe’s big year in 2010 came immediately after his other bad season.
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