Chiefs coach Andy Reid picked up the phone and dialed Jeremy Maclin late last week.
The Chiefs were releasing Maclin, news that was a surprise to all but only a few inside the organization, and Reid wanted to make sure the 29-year-old receiver – who he drafted into the NFL and later recruited to Kansas City – knew one thing.
“He knows I love him,” Reid said of Maclin. “I haven’t changed on that. He’s a phenomenal person and I wished him the best of luck. There’s not much else you can say.”
But that’s exactly what Reid tried to do after the Chiefs’ seventh voluntary offseason practice on Tuesday.
“This gives him enough time to hook on with another team, which he will do — Jeremy can still play,” Reid said. “This is part of the NFL business … this is the worst part about the job, clearly.”
Reid said the move had been “rolling around” in general manager John Dorsey’s mind for a while.
“We have some good players so we are OK there,” Reid said. “It’s not easy for John, it’s not easy for me or the coaches, but it’s a decision we ended up making and we will go forward.”
Maclin was the Chiefs’ leading receiver and a team captain in 2015. In 2016 he missed four games because of a groin injury and was affected by the death of a long-time friend in September. He only caught 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite that, and the fact the Chiefs gained $10 million in salary cap room by releasing Maclin, Reid said the club will indeed miss his presence, both off and on the field, where he empowered the Chiefs’ offense by giving them some on-field edge and aggression.
“I don’t think you replace him — that’s not what you do,” said Reid, who declined to say whether the club attempted to re-work Maclin’s contract, which had three years and roughly $32 million remaining.
“But we’ve got other guys in there that are great leaders, and so they understand the game. We’ve got guys that have been around here for a little while and been in the league for a while. But I’m not taking anything away from him as a person, man. He’s a phenomenal person, he is great in the locker room, and we have some other guys that are great in there, too. So they’ll pick up any slack, too.”
Reid is depending on the latter, it appears. When asked if he worries about internal frustration surrounding the move, especially considering the Chiefs’ consistently-stated desire to win a Super Bowl, Reid said he is not.
“We have enough talent right here to do what we need to do,” he said. “Plus, we have a great locker room.”
The Chiefs, however, now have one of the NFL’s youngest group of receivers, all 24 years old or younger. This led to a question about whether he saw something from the young guys over the first two weeks of organized team activities that made him feel more comfortable with the decision to release Maclin.
“Well, they’ve done a good job,” Reid said. “I don’t know if I’d be that specific, but we do feel a comfort there. I don’t know if it was the last couple weeks, or just with time. We felt pretty good with it.”
Reid is also relying on that to be true, as well. Quarterback Alex Smith told The Star on Saturday that he was shocked by Maclin’s release, and he counted Maclin as a good friend and teammate.
“Alex has been around and he’s got guys that will make catches too,” Reid said. “He knows that.”
Reid said Tyreek Hill, a Pro Bowler last season, will likely get the first crack at replacing Maclin at the “Z” position, the spotlight receiver spot in Reid’s West Coast offense.
Hill actually caught more passes (61) for more yards (593) and touchdowns (six) than Maclin had last year, despite playing 215 fewer offensive snaps than Maclin did.
“I mean, he works hard and he’s skilled,” Reid said of Hill. “Is he still learning? Yeah he is still learning. I’ll tell you that with the receivers because that’s what they do until they get defenses down. But, he will give you good production at that (Z) position.”
Hill only played approximately 40 percent of the offensive snaps last season, when he starred as the league’s most dangerous return man by taking back two punts and a kick for scores, so naturally, Reid was asked if an uptick in Hill’s offensive workload might affect his return ability.
“I’ve dealt with this with (Brian) Westbrook and Desean Jackson — you can balance that out to where they can do both,” Reid said. “You just have to be aware of their workload and what’s going on. But there’s nothing that says they can’t do both.”
Another player to keep an eye on is second-year pro Demarcus Robinson, a fourth-round pick last year who fell in the draft because of off-field concerns but stood out as a gunner on special teams in 2016 and has consistently shown a natural knack for catching deep balls in practice.
“He’s the young one that has come up here a little bit and had a pretty good offseason,” Reid said. “We’ll see how he does once we get going in the preseason … he can go after (the ball) and he’s physical. He can run and he can do the short stuff, too. His strength coming in was he’s good after the catch.
“Again, I’m not saying that he’s that guy right now. But he’s had a good offseason.”
Albert Wilson, a part-time starter in 2016, also figures to work his way into the mix to replace Maclin. Wilson only caught 31 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns in 2016 but has played regularly for three years now and is heading into a contract season.
“You know what (No.) 12 can do,” Reid said.
Meanwhile, Chris Conley — who started at the “X” position opposite Maclin last year and earned the most offensive snaps of any Chiefs receiver — will also be counted on to fill the leadership void. Conley, a third-round pick in 2015, caught 44 passes for 530 yards and zero touchdowns last season, his first as a starter.
“Albert and Chris, they’ve spent a lot of time with Jeremy, and yeah, they’ll step that up,” Reid said. “I’ve got confidence in that group right there.”
That didn’t make the decision to release Maclin any easier, Reid insisted. When asked if he felt compelled to say anything to the team after the move, Reid just shook his head.
“No, we just move on,” he said. “It’s part of the game and these guys know that better than anyone.”
The Star’s Alec McChesney contributed to this report