On a beautiful Tuesday afternoon Andy Reid spent about nine minutes answering variations of the same question with variations of the same vagueness. In defending what he didn’t really explain, Reid relied on shiftiness.
This was four days after the Chiefs cut receiver Jeremy Maclin, whom they had spent the last two years treating like a critical piece of a Super Bowl push. So far, these nine minutes and a couple canned quotes in a press release account for the entirety of the organization’s words on a personnel decision that will in part define — one way or the other — the 2017 season.
Group interviews of NFL coaches are one of the worst places in modern society to hear something surprising or definitive, but dangit that doesn’t mean we can’t try.
So, Coach Reid, do you worry about a mixed message of telling people you are trying to win a Super Bowl while cutting that guy?
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“No,” Reid said. “I don’t worry about that at all, actually. Nope, no, no. We got enough talent right here to do whatever we need to do. I don’t worry about that. Plus, we got a great locker room, so.”
What’s said in these group interviews is often only a vague form of the truth. Reid is likely projecting the image he wants for a group that by now is entirely his — every player on the roster was either brought in or re-signed after he and general manager John Dorsey took over.
Because he has to know this is an impossible sell for the organization, and that by some accounts, at least a few important players are taken aback. Alex Smith said he was “shocked,” calling Maclin “a great person, a great teammate, a great player.” Travis Kelce said “it ripped my heart out,” and said most of his teammates felt the same way.
The Chiefs leadership structure does not badmouth guys on the way out, so we should at least allow for the unlikely possibility that something more than the obvious is at play.
But on the surface, we know they perennially have one of the league’s worst salary cap situations and did not have enough space to sign their draft class. Cutting Maclin saves $10 million, which is more than enough for the rookies, but not nearly enough to make the team as good as it was last week.
If it’s as simple as the Chiefs are allowing everyone to believe — that it’s strictly business, a cap casualty — then they are admitting incompetence in a key part of building a sustainable and successful football team.
The Chiefs waited too long to extend Justin Houston and Eric Berry, bumbled their way into spending more than what should’ve been necessary on Tamba Hali, and continue to pay Smith at least a little more than he’s worth. They have mismanaged the cap for years. The trend only feels worse by the Broncos constantly having enough space to seemingly sign any free agent or extend any in-house star they please.
If the Chiefs’ mistakes meant no room to keep a receiver who just two years ago went over 1,000 yards, then this is like a teenager saying he can’t buy lunch at school because he blew his money on gummy worms.
The Chiefs recently fired Trip MacCracken, who headed the team’s work on contracts and the cap. But MacCracken — same as whoever replaces him — merely advises Dorsey. It’s the GM who makes the decision.
The Chiefs won’t comment on an NFL Network report that they did not approach Maclin about taking a pay cut. Assuming the report is true, it undercuts the team’s credibility about this merely being business.
There is a case to be made that Maclin is no longer worth the contract he signed with the Chiefs. He effectively missed five games because of injury last season, and when he played struggled to get separation on defenders and was at times demonstrably ticked off when not thrown the ball.
Tyreek Hill outperformed him in more than 200 fewer offensive snaps, and figures to only improve. If the Chiefs believe Maclin’s future is like his 2016 season and not 2015 or before, then, well, they can expect Chris Conley or another receiver down the depth chart to do that while making far less money.
But the Chiefs aren’t saying that (not out loud, anyway), and if they really didn’t even bother asking Maclin to take a pay cut, it only adds to a fundamentally mixed message after so long building him up as a man, teammate, and receiver.
Because, let’s be clear: they are preparing for what they still hope to be a Super Bowl run by cutting their most accomplished receiver and a beloved teammate and leader at a position where they need more of that.
The Chiefs will move on. Reid and Dorsey have built a talented and deep roster, and the organization is at its most stable point in two decades. They should be proud, and they should expect their success to continue.
But they also should expect logical folks in and out of the locker room to see this as a mixed message, and a brutal move necessitated by their own mistakes.