Every offseason offers up at least one goldmine for teams in need of help at a certain position every year in the NFL. For teams hungry for a young quarterback to groom, the 2012 NFL Draft offered up a rare year for signal callers anchored by the incredible tandem of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The previous year, cornerbacks were the hottest commodity on the open market with Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph and Antonio Cromartie leading a free agent pack and Patrick Peterson landing in the Draft's top five players.
This year, wide receiver is the prized position available for needy teams to grab a linchpin for the passing game. Mike Wallace migrated to South Beach, Greg Jennings flipped to a longtime rival and Dwayne Bowe surprisingly re-upped for a last place team. All three are among the best at their position and all three deservingly landed among the highest paid at their position. But for one of the three, accolades and attention have been slower to arrive despite the on-field production.
Despite finally landing his long-term payday this offseason after the Chiefs seemingly flirted with another franchise tag, Bowe remains under-the-radar compared to similar players at his position. The final tally for Bowe's contract is five years and $56 million, an amount that places Bowe below the elite tier of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald and in the company of Wallace, Vincent Jackson and Percy Harvin.
Interestingly enough, Bowe's press isn't as bright as his contract. In fact, it's hard to believe Chiefs wideout landed the enormous contract that he did with an average that pays him like one of the best given the negative buzz that often comes when he's mentioned.
Whether it's a scout mentioning to Peter King that Bowe is "scary" as a free agent because of his "baggage" or Gregg Rosenthal mentioning his "propensity for drops" and "selfish behavior" in a recent column for NFL.com, Bowe's reputation links him with headaches as much as highlights.
Let's be clear and up front about one item of note: the drops have been problematic. Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus places Bowe in the top 10 wide receivers in "drop rate" in a column last summer. It's a stat certainly backs the idea that Bowe has occasionally let the Chiefs down in key situations by not bringing in what is clearly a catchable pass.
However, Bowe's negative spotlight is too bright for the historic stage that he stands on. Through his first six seasons, Bowe is in the top 30 wide receivers in NFL history with 5,728 yards, tied with former Minnesota Vikings great Anthony Carter. Barring injury, Bowe will become the greatest wide receiver in Kansas City Chiefs history in the next year or two, surpassing Otis Taylor on the team's yardage and touchdown lists.
What makes Bowe's strong career numbers even more amazing is the context in which he has produced. The Chiefs have gone 29-67 in Bowe's six seasons and he's endured a new offensive coordinator in each of those years. A quick read through the names show just how dismal the Chiefs' offense has largely been since Bowe was drafted out of LSU: Mike Solari, Chan Gailey, Todd Haley, Charlie Weis, Bill Muir, Brian Daboll.
Incidentally, the quarterbacks throwing the ball to Bowe in that time have been even worse. He came into the league in 2007 and suffered through Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle for 16 games. Just last year, it was the rotation of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn standing under center. In six years, the names might have changed, but the results were the same. That doesn't include the multiple games that Tyler Thigpen, Kyle Orton and Tyler Palko started as well.
Through it all, the Chiefs have largely been a run-first team with horrible quarterbacks and miserable coaching in Bowe's first six years in the league. He's consistently double-teamed due to the Chiefs' inability to develop another pass catcher next to him. From free agent signings like Steve Breaston to draft picks like Jon Baldwin, no one has been able to keep secondaries honest against the Chiefs passing game.
Despite his production, Bowe has a single Pro Bowl season to his credit. The same can be said of All Pro mentions. Ranking among the top receivers for each of his first six seasons, Bowe has yet to break through to the mainstream at that echelon. He might produce like it. He might get paid like it. Few seem to truly understand it.
If the Chiefs can ascend once again out of the AFC West basement like they did in 2010, then Bowe will likely earn his second Pro Bowl nomination and the respect he deserves. But for now he stands as the most underrated receiver in the NFL -- a player with the skills and production to earn a payday alongside the game's greatest without a comparable platform.