KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ The Chiefs were close to lifeless when they threw the football last season _ and that was with a healthy Dwayne Bowe in their lineup for all 16 games.
They tried to envision what their passing game might look like without Bowe, their top wide receiver the last five seasons, and realized it wouldn't be a pretty sight.
So on Monday, after the sides couldn't agree on a long-term contract, the Chiefs designated Bowe as their franchise player. Otherwise, Bowe would have become an unrestricted free agent when the signing period begins next Tuesday.
"You're talking about a big, strong, physical guy who was a Pro Bowler two years ago," said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, now a game analyst for CBS. "I don't know how you get rid of a guy like that. I see this as a no-brainer.
"I wouldn't go so far as to say he's irreplaceable. But the Chiefs have gone through the growing pains with him, and now he's at the point in his career where he's figured it out. He's gone to a Pro Bowl. Now all of a sudden you let him walk out the door? I don't know that you can do that."
As part of the transaction, the Chiefs offered Bowe a one-year contract worth about $9.5 million. Bowe can sign the contract at any time or the sides could negotiate a long-term contract.
Even if neither of those things happen, the franchise tag effectively keeps Bowe off the free-agent market. Starting next Tuesday he will be free to negotiate and sign a contract with another team. But the Chiefs would have the right to match the offer and retain Bowe. If they decline to match, the Chiefs would lose Bowe but receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.
That's steep compensation and will probably keep other teams from signing Bowe to an offer sheet.
Without that compensation, Bowe would have been a prize on the free-agent market. He has had more than 1,000 receiving yards in three of his five seasons with the Chiefs and missed by just 5 yards as a rookie in 2007.
He might have reached 1,000 yards in 2009 but missed five games that season, four because of an NFL suspension and one because of injury.
Bowe's biggest season came in 2010, when he was chosen to the Pro Bowl after catching 72 passes and scoring 15 touchdowns. The Chiefs' offensive production fell off greatly last season, but Bowe still managed 81 receptions.
"He would have had a lot of interest if the Chiefs had let him go," Gannon said. "There are a lot of teams out there that need help. There's a bunch of teams, like San Francisco. In the NFC championship game against the Giants, their wide receivers had one catch. They could have used Dwayne Bowe. Miami needs a receiver, the Jets, Washington, Chicago.
"Just look at the division. The Oakland Raiders, they have a bunch of sprinters, but they're not great football players. They don't have a big guy that can run slants and use his body. I think he would have been a great fit out there."
Had the Chiefs lost Bowe, they would have been forced to shop around the free-agent market for a receiver. Other than Bowe, the Chiefs have Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin, Terrance Copper and some developmental players.
Breaston had a nice first year with the Chiefs, catching 61 passes. Baldwin, the Chiefs' first-round draft pick last year, missed much of his rookie season because of a broken thumb and wound up catching 21 passes. Copper is mostly a special-teams player.
"If you did let him go, what impact does that have on the rest of the offense, Matt Cassel in particular?" Gannon said. "Bowe is a guy he has some history with. They've got a good rapport with each other. So you lose that if Bowe goes.
"Baldwin is still a work in progress. He's not ready to take over as the No. 1 receiver."
General manager Scott Pioli's comment in a statement released by the Chiefs made it sound as though the sides were never close to reaching a long-term agreement.
"Today was the league's deadline to designate a franchise player," Pioli said, "and we felt it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs to place the tag on Dwayne."
The move with Bowe almost guarantees cornerback Brandon Carr will become an unrestricted free agent next week. With only one franchise tag to use, the Chiefs were faced when the offseason began with what appeared to be a difficult decision whether to place it on Bowe or Carr.
But the Chiefs last month effectively ended the mystery by signing former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt to take Carr's place.
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