The Chiefs are soon to employ a wide receiver who caught an NFL touchdown in 2014 so, you know, eat it, haters.
These things don’t happen enough in sports, when a move that seems so obvious and important to the team you follow actually ends up happening. How many times have you wanted your team to go after the big name starting pitcher, or quarterback, or point guard, or whatever, only to see it never materialize for reasons that are usually left vague?
The Chiefs are expected to make themselves an exception this week, agreeing to a deal with Jeremy Maclin — the former Mizzou star turned Eagles Pro Bowler — that instantly makes them a much better and more interesting team.
Free-agent contracts don’t often come like this. Free agency is a notoriously inefficient and often ineffective way of building NFL teams, but there is every reason to believe Maclin and the Chiefs could be an exception.
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The Chiefs, of course, are absolutely desperate for receivers, and Maclin is the best they’ve had since at least the days when Dwayne Bowe — more on him in a bit — was still good. Maclin turns 27 in May, and the last time a Chiefs receiver matched his 1,318 yards receiving from 2014 was in 2000. Before that, 1983. Before that, never.
What’s more, Maclin should not come with the typical learning curve of free agents plucked from one system and put into another. He played the first four years of his career for Andy Reid in Philadelphia, averaging 65 catches, 863 yards and 6.5 touchdowns. Those were very much spread-it-out teams in Philly. In Maclin’s last year with Reid, four players received 76 or more targets. Four more received 31 or more.
Maclin is a versatile receiver, able to stretch defenses deep or hurt them over the middle. According to Pro Football Focus, he dropped only one pass in 140 targets and 85 receptions last year.
If you’re like me, you thought that Randall Cobb would have been a slightly better fit because of his ability to work in the slot or on the outside, but at the very least the familiarity with Reid makes it close to a wash.
It is, in so many ways, an absolute no-brainer and the most tangible sign yet that the Chiefs are stepping on the gas to try to win now.
It changes both the team and what it can do, and not just in some of these obvious ways.
▪ Maclin is the best receiver that Alex Smith has ever played with. He is much better than the older and paid version of Bowe, and in the five seasons Smith was the leading passer for the 49ers his top targets were tight end Vernon Davis (twice), Michael Crabtree, Antonio Bryant and Brandon Lloyd.
Everything seems to come back to Smith, eventually, when people look at the Chiefs so it won’t take long with Maclin.
One thing to keep in mind: Maclin just had his best statistical season with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez as his quarterbacks. The Eagles threw the ball a ton last year — 621 times, which is 26 percent more than the Chiefs did – which obviously boosted Maclin’s counting stats but it’s not like he was a product of Aaron Rodgers’ awesome passes.
Maclin won’t have the numbers he posted last year in Chip Kelly’s system, but 1,000 yards and eight or nine touchdowns is entirely realistic and would help the Chiefs score more points.
People who think Smith is a star must be thrilled to see what he can finally do with a star receiver. People who think Smith is junk are either sad for Maclin or happy they can be proven right.
People (like me) who think Smith is good, but not great, are looking forward to seeing him work with a top receiver.
Either way, the "he is throwing to a tight end, a running back and four receivers named Fred" part of the Smith discussion is over. I feel like we should throw a party.
▪ Speaking of Bowe, he has probably played his last game with the Chiefs. Ian Rapoport had the report that the Chiefs would cut Bowe if they could not trade him.
I’d still think long and hard about cutting Bowe’s salary — if Bowe was willing, he would likely be in line for more money than he could get on the open market and it wouldn’t cost the Chiefs any extra cap space vs. cutting him — but it’s easy to understand the team wanting to move on.
Bowe did not win many favors among the coaching staff or front office with what many perceived to be coasting after signing his big contract.
The Chiefs, of course, were awful enough at receiver that merely replacing Bowe with Maclin is not enough. So, one more takeaway from the news…
▪ This provides cover in the draft for the Chiefs to fill any of their major needs with their first pick. I’m higher on Albert Wilson than many, but if he is the top receiver on your depth chart going into the draft you might feel some pressure to take a receiver first.
The Chiefs still could do that, but now the loyalty to their draft list and "best player available" motivation is easier to stick with.
Especially because Maclin plays on the outside, one obvious plan might be to draft some offensive line help with the first pick and then Tyler Lockett in the second round. Forget that Lockett played at K-State. Just as a football player, he makes a lot of sense for the Chiefs. He’s quick, runs precise routes, and would fit nicely in the slot. He’s also smart, with a reputation as a diligent worker, which could cut down on the learning curve not just into the NFL but into Reid’s system.
▪ I leave you with some Maclin GIFs. Terez used this one in his story, and if you are a Chiefs fan and have not seen you might want to prepare yourself for the entirely bizarre sight of a receiver beating man coverage on a post route and making it into the end zone, for which his team was rewarded six points with the chance at an easy kick for a seventh point. Like, he didn’t even have to fumble it into the end zone and let a tight end pick it up or anything.
Doesn’t this look like something Reid would run?
This one might look familiar to Mizzou fans…
Even the Silky Johnsons among you will admit this is a throw Alex Smith can make.
And he can work across the middle, in tight spaces.