It seemed on the surface like one of the dumbest moves of the offseason.
For a team that had struggled to get the ball to its receivers for much of the past five seasons to suddenly make the move to cut its No. 1 receiver was baffling.
However, that’s exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs did when they released former first-round draft pick, and Kirkwood product by way of Mizzou, Jeremy Maclin on June 2.
Maclin was a superstar receiver at times with the Philadelphia Eagles and went over 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns in 2015. 2016 was a bit of a down year, but Maclin is still just 29 years old and most would have said he was a solid candidate to have a bounce-back season.
Yet, Andy Reid and the Chiefs front office seem to have known what they were doing all along as they’ve proven all of us wrong in the early going this season.
Not only are the Chiefs 5-0, but quarterback Alex Smith finds himself in the top three in terms of passing yards and first downs achieved through the air in the first five weeks. He trails only Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and the man many have taken to referring to as the G.O.A.T. (“Greatest of All-Time), Tom Brady.
Smith’s 11 touchdown passes are tied for third with Brady and Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott. They trail only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and rookie DeShaun Watson from the Texans.
Those 11 touchdowns through the first five weeks have Smith on pace for 35 passing scores this season. He’s never thrown more than 23 in a season at any point in his career. That number came in 2013, his first year with the Chiefs, but nearly a third of those came on short dump-off passes to running back Jamaal Charles.
The loss of the former No. 1 receiver on his team’s depth chart hasn’t hurt him at all. In fact, he’s having a career year. Oh, and by the way, Smith has not yet thrown an interception this year.
Now, some of Smith’s tremendous play might be credited to him feeling the pressure from the Chiefs’ decision to trade up and draft Patrick Mahomes II in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, meaning that Smith’s days with the team are likely numbered. Whatever the motivation, Smith is thriving in the post-Maclin era.
While the season is still young, the Chiefs and Smith have proven any who doubted what they were doing wrong.
Tyreek Hill, a diminutive dynamo thought by many, including myself, to be a flash in the pan “gadget player” in the vein of Dante Hall, has likewise proven us all wrong and leads the team with 356 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 25 catches. Only star tight end Travis Kelce has more catches, 29, than Hill on the team, and has three fewer yards. Hill ranks 11th in the league in receiving yards after Week 5.
Maclin’s removal from the team, while not ideal to fans at the time, opened up valuable cap space for the Chiefs to be able to sign its quarterback of the future, Mahomes, and another rookie draft pick named Kareem Hunt. The latter just happens to be leading the NFL in rushing by a healthy margin.
Maclin, meanwhile, has been middle of the road for the Baltimore Ravens, who scooped him up in free agency.
While he has caught a pair of touchdowns, Maclin has just 16 catches for 159 yards, an average of 31.8 yards per week. That puts him on pace for another 500-yard season, if he plays all 16 games. Maclin has missed at least one game in all but two of his professional seasons and played in 12 games for the Chiefs in 2016.