KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The departure of Jeremy Maclin from the Kansas City Chiefs receivers group creates a vacancy for a top-shelf receiver capable of turning in a 1,000-yard season as well as a leader who takes charge and sets a professional tone.
Coach Andy Reid acknowledges replacing Maclin stands a tall task.
“I don’t think you replace him, that’s not what you do,” Reid said.
In fact, the job looms so large it likely takes two players to fill the void. Reid said second-year receiver Tyreek Hill stands to gain the most playing time in Maclin’s usual role.
“You know how much we rotate people, but Tyreek will probably be in that position,” Reid said.
Hill thrived last season with Maclin out of the lineup. The team sprinkled Hill into the offense slowly early in the season. During the five-game stretch where Maclin missed all but one series, Hill hauled in 31 catches on 39 targetrs for 248 yards and touchdown. He also added another 63 yards rushing with another touchdown.
“He works hard, he’s skilled,” Reid said of Hill. “Is he still learning? Yeah, he’s still learning. I’ll tell you that with receivers through a couple of years there, that’s what they do until they get all those defenses down. But he’ll give you good production at that position.”
Hill believes the work he put in this spring should pay dividends come fall.
“I’ve been here this whole offseason with the other wideouts getting my route running down and just trying to learn the game more, so I just won’t be this fast guy on the field,” Hill said.
When it comes to replacing the leadership Maclin provided among the receivers group, Reid looks to turn to Chris Conley and Albert Wilson.
“Albert and Chris, they’ve spent a lot of time with Jeremy,” Reid said. “We’ve got other guys in there that are great leaders. They understand the game. We’ve got guys who have been around here for a while and been in the league a while.”
Conley shared a locker next to Maclin, watching and listening how Maclin delivered his advice and groomed his young disciples.
“It’s not necessarily being a ‘rah-rah’ guy every day,” Conley said. “Sometimes it’s coming out here, seeing what they do and waiting until the end of practice and talking to them about what they need to get better at.”
DEPTH CHART HIERARCHY
Maclin’s departure shifts the battle lines on the depth chart for the upcoming training camp.
The Chiefs returned every all five receivers who caught a pass for the team a year ago along with last year’s fourth-round pick Demarcus Robinson. The organization also added this year’s fourth-round pick Jehu Chesson.
That created a scenario with seven receivers battling for six spots, signaling the likelihood of a veteran hitting the road. Maclin emerged as that roster casualty.
The Chiefs currently have 12 receivers listed on the roster. Conley, Hill, Robinson and Chesson along with Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas lead the six most like to make the opening weekend roster.
Four rookies make up the second group of receivers battling for a roster spot. They are joined by Seantavius Jones, a holdover from last year’s practice squad, and Tevin Jones, a 2016 rookie who joined the Houston Texans practice squad last year.
CHIEFS HIGH ON YOUNG WRS
The release of Maclin sends one clear message about the team’s evaluation of its young receivers — the team likes what it sees.
“I have a lot of trust in the guys we have here, I’ll tell you that,” Reid said. “They’ve worked their tail off, some of them for this opportunity. They’re going to get a little more play time. We have full trust they are going to get the job done.”
Conley demonstrated progression in his second season not uncommon among emerging receivers in an Andy Reid offense. If Conley continues his growth and Hill experiences a similar second-year boom, the Chiefs should have a solid top-two tandem.
Wilson and Thomas remain reliable role players. Robinson demonstrated increased confidence and understanding of the offense in the first two weeks of OTAs.
Reid singled Robinson out as a player to watch during the preseason.
“He can go after it,” Reid said of Robinson. “He’s physical. He can run and do the short stuff too. His strength coming in was he was good after the catch. Wherever you get it to him, that was one of his strengths.”
Chesson, this year’s fourth-round selection, could fill a role similar to Robinson last season on special teams while learning the position.
SALARY CAP RELIEF
The release of Maclin clears nearly $10 million in salary cap space, and that room gives the Chiefs financial freedom for 2017.
The NFLPA salary cap reported showed the Chiefs with $3.51 million in available cap space prior to Maclin’s release. That numbers only includes the team’s top 51 contracts.
That space would barely allow the team to fit its three outstanding draft picks under contract. The team signed defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon and running back Kareem Hunt following Maclin’s release. Only quarterback Patrick Mahomes remains unsigned.
The real trouble, however, arises in September. Teams during the regular season must fit all 53 roster players along with practice squad players and players on injured reserve.
The release of Maclin alleviates almost all of the team’s salary cap issues. It also means the team should not need any other salary cap adjustments to remain under the cap. It also allows the team flexibility to negotiate extensions with potential free agents such as linebacker Dee Ford, cornerback Phillip Gaines and offensive lineman Zach Fulton.