Why Jeremy Maclin was cut, and what it means for the Chiefs

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On Friday, Kansas City shocked the football world by releasing their best receiver, Jeremy Maclin.

QB Alex Smith, like many of us, said he was in shock. TE Travis Kelce said it ripped his heart out.

After catching 88 passes for 1,088 yards and 8 scores in a career-year 2015, he was hampered by injuries and with the sudden rise of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, his numbers fell to 44 catches, 536 yards, and 2 scores.

Still, with no other proven receiver on the roster, his job appeared safe heading into 2017. Keep in mind, this year was just the third of a five-year, $55 million contract he signed in 2013. (The Chiefs were later charged with the tampering of Maclin, and lost 3rd and 6th round picks because of it.) Now, they are without the services of the 29-year old, but also gain $10M in cap space – money needed to sign their top two draft picks (QB Patrick Mahomes and DE Tanoh Kpassagnon). The thing that confuses most people, including myself at the time, is that if the Chiefs were worried about cap, they could have released a number of less used players. Players like Anthony Sherman are arguably worth far less to the team, yet Dorsey decided to cut Maclin.

But why?

  • They are in a silent rebuild. While the Chiefs have won 43 games the last four seasons, made the playoffs three times, and have sent 20 players to the Pro Bowl, John Dorsey is no fool. Each team in the AFC West has a serious claim to the division title in 2017, and he wants to make sure the Chiefs are right in the thick of the race. Furthermore, Dorsey is not just concerned with 2017, but beyond. He’s rebuilding the smart way: put a winning team in place, and slowly add for future years, while you win. Kansas City is a playoff team with the current roster, so he has the confidence in his job security to make smart, calculated moves that will pay off down the line. It explains the move from No. 28 to No. 10 in this year’s draft for QB Patrick Mahomes, and then the later move up for Toledo back Kareem Hunt. He doesn’t just want the Chiefs to be good this year, but in 2018, 2019, and if all goes to plan, well beyond.
  • The plan may not appear evident right now, but that’s okay. It’s not supposed to. We’re not supposed to see Mahomes this year, and Hunt may not get serious reps until later this year, but that’s fine. Alex Smith is competent enough to win KC 10-11 games, and Spencer Ware is more than capable of leading the running backs. In the case of the receivers and Maclin, it doesn’t make sense to pay a third option $10M. That’s what I believe made this move sensible. The reality of the situation, emotions and speculation aside, was that Maclin was no longer a top option. Kelce came into his own this year, catching 85 passes for 1,125 yards while Hill scored nine offensive touchdowns. For a team backed against the wall, Maclin became expendable. Third-year pro Chris Conley also expanded upon his 2015 statistics, catching 44 passes for 530 yards after catching just 17 his rookie season. With Hill, Kelce, and Conley all making significant strides, I believe the Chiefs offense is better set up for the future.

The argument that Maclin’s presence made it easier for Kelce and Hill to take advantage of coverage is only partially true in regards to being a defense for criticism of the move. Kelce was doubled numerous times late last season, and it didn’t matter. Teams will have to pay more attention to Kelce and Hill this season, but Andy Reid is one of the best game planners in the league. With more attention on those two, he can exploit one-on-one coverage with Chris Conley. At 6’3, 215 pounds and boasting 4.35 speed, Conley is being set up to explode in this third season (when most receivers also tend to break out). I’ve been a fan of Conley since he came out, and I’m personally thrilled at the potential he has. He only needed the chance, and with Maclin out the picture, he has that chance.

Obviously, none of these guys (along with the backups Demarcus Robinson, Albert Wilson, rookie Jehu Chesson, and De’Anthony Thomas) are Maclin, but with the miniscule amount of money attached to them, they could pay twice the dividends at a fraction of the cost, as the entire WR corps makes $7M. If the Chiefs offense struggles this year (which I don’t believe it will), then the Chiefs have the money available to upgrade. If they shine, however, then the Chiefs have solid starters making mere thousands, and John Dorsey once again comes out the winner. While he’s gambling on a 5th round return man turned dynamite receiver and a receiver with just 61 career catches to become consistent receiving threats, it’s not like this is his first gamble. Marcus Peters, deemed a locker room distraction by many, is now one of the NFL’s top corners. Hill, with his incident at Oklahoma scaring many teams away, came back to bite the NFL with a record-setting rookie season. He’s rarely been wrong as KC’s general manager, and I expect this move to end better than any are predicting it will.

As for Maclin, I appreciated his time in Kansas City. Catching 131 passes for 1,624 yards and 10 scores, he was a fun player to watch, a consummate teammate, and he represented the Chiefs extremely well, as well as #MizzouMade, offering extra joy to that fan base who was able to see him play for both their favorite college and NFL team.

As for Maclin, I’m sure he was stunned. His teammates and Reid were at his wedding just weeks ago. He skipped his honeymoon to go to OTA’s, where he received first-team reps. But, he kept is simple:

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I hope he finds a new team soon. Just don’t let it be the Browns or 49ers. The Bills (thanks to the recruiting of former Eagles teammate LeSean McCoy) and Ravens reportedly have the most interest.

Maclin is the second fan-favorite salary cap casualty this year, as Jamaal Charles was released in February and signed with rival Denver in May. It’s part of it, but it still sucks.

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