Counterpoint: Bowe = Chief Concern and Not a Part of "the Right 53"

In response to Matt Conner's excellent post earlier on about whether Dwayne Bowe is a concern for the Chiefs, allow me to provide a counterpoint.

To me, Bowe's recent comments lead me to believe he's more a part of the problem than he is a part of the solution (until definitively proven otherwise).

More after the jump.

Where I most disagree with Matt is in the conclusion that Bowe's behavior undermines all the work Pioli has done to make the Chiefs a team of high character. I would argue that if not for Pioli's focus on character, nobody in Kansas City would care about the Bowe story. It would just be another NFL player making the news and then a few days later, the story would fizzle out. Even in the national media, this doesn't seem to be an issue that's causing a lot of outrage. Both of Bowe's comments were incredibly stupid, but are they going to get him into much trouble with the league? Most likely not. And yet, people in Kansas City keep talking about it.

I would also argue that most people don't think of Bowe as a Pioli guy; they think of him as a Herm guy. Bowe's allegations are not a smear on the current Chiefs at all. If anything, it shows the clear divide between the Chiefs of old versus the Chiefs of today. Herm Edwards' Chiefs have built a reputation for being a pretty loosely disciplined organization--players showed up to Haley's camp overweight, practices were said to be pretty tame compared to Haley's and Vermeil's, and now these allegations call into question whether some players were really focused on days leading up to key games. I like Herm Edwards, so I'm not saying any of these things are necessarily true; however, that is certainly the perception. Most fans would probably agree that Pioli would have never drafted a player like Bowe in in the first place.

So if Bowe's conduct isn't a big deal or punishable and if Bowe is a guy linked to the previous regime, then why do we keep talking about him? The ONLY reason we're still talking about Dwayne Bowe is because he's clearly proven he doesn't fit into "the right 53."

Wow. Pretty bold statement, right? But I sense that many of you are uneasy because you can't fully disagree with that. Try saying "Dwayne Bowe has proven to be a part of the right 53" aloud and see if you actually buy it--my guess is, you can't.

Let's put the stupidity of Bowe's statements aside and get to the bottom of what's really making us feel uneasy. Pioli has clearly moved in the direction of bringing in proven leaders, most of whom were captains of their college teams. Bowe, on the other hand, threw his teammates--some former and some current--under the bus for no real good reason by breaking "the player code." Strike 1. Pioli has focused on bringing in hard-working players, even if they're not the most gifted of athletes. Bowe, on the other hand, took a diuretic last season instead of losing weight the natural way. Strike 2. Finally, Pioli has created a tight-lipped culture. People in the Chiefs' organization don't talk and when they do, the responses sound rehearsed and coached. Listening to the new batch of rookies give interviews was like listening to an interview with the Terminator. Bowe, on the other hand, got caught saying something stupid not once but twice in a very short period of time. Is that a potential strike 3? Some players make a slip-up here and there. What's more concerning is that Bowe's slip-ups have spanned over a period of time.

And it's not as if Bowe's place in Pioli's long-term plans was solidified in the first place. He's been inconsistent at best and he seems to have been in Haley's doghouse more than he's been out of it. You would think that a player coming off a 4-game suspension playing in a contract year would be working twice as hard to clear his name. Scary, because when you're talking about long-term vision, you call into question whether he's actually learning from his mistakes.

I've heard several people comment that Bowe's recent comments aren't that big of a deal. They most certainly are because they've put Pioli in a really, really tough spot. Pioli has worked hard to build a specific type of team culture. That required him to make a lot of tough, sometimes unpopular decisions (e.g. cutting Bernard Pollard) and to compromise winning today for the sake of building the team for tomorrow. Throughout that building process, he has been firm and unwavering in his commitment to bring in a specific type of football player. What does it say when he's suddenly willing to make exceptions? When you're trying to send a message that hard work, leadership, and character will be rewarded, what does it say when a consistent violator of those principles is continually given second chances? Giving Bowe repeated second chances dilutes Pioli's message. On character, Pioli has been tough and decisive. Bowe making these comments after already being in the doghouse last season makes it look like Pioli isn't in control of his players. If there's anything I've learned in life, it's that discipline is a lot easier to enforce when you demonstrate that there are clear consequences for stepping out of line.

The question is, what will those clear consequences be for Bowe? Because right now, the fans and the media are of the mindset of "fool me twice, shame on me." And we feel sort of shamed that after forgiving him for his suspension last season, he's still making fundamental mistakes off the field, even if minor. It will take a lot to convince us otherwise, lest we be fooled again. Even if Haley tells us Bowe is working harder this offseason, even if Pioli and Brian Waters assure us that the locker room issue is being handled, even if Bowe strings together a few magnificent performances back-to-back-to-back, can we ever truly rule out that Bowe won't do something stupid like this again one or two years down the road? Now Pioli and Haley face a very tough decision as to whether they compromise "the right 53" they've worked so hard to build and sell in order to make an exception for a player they might want and need on the field. Do you then sell it as "the right 52 plus 1?"

Because I'll tell you what, if Pioli and Haley ever bring up "the right 53" again and Bowe is still on the roster, it sounds a little bit phony. For the record, I'm not saying I want Bowe on or off the team; I'm simply pointing out that opening his mouth has led Pioli to a crossroads he shouldn't have ever been led to.

And to think, all Bowe had to do was keep his mouth shut. That's probably the worst part about this whole ordeal.

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