Chiefs' Bowe, Baldwin of the same mold
A reported fight erupted in the Kansas City Chiefs locker room last week, an altercation that led to a wrist injury for rookie wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and a teachable moment for Pro Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
Though Bowe wasn't involved in the melee -- that would've been running back Thomas Jones mixing it up with Baldwin -- he is the best person to help Baldwin grow from all this drama.
It wasn't that long ago that many people wondered if Bowe would ever overcome his own maturity issues. Now, it's time to question whether he has the chops to do what real leaders do once they've arrived.
Baldwin became a risk as soon as Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli traded up to make him the 26th overall selection in this year's draft. Along with jaw-dropping size and big-play ability, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Baldwin had all the requisite dimensions of a diva. He'd accused his college coaches at Pitt of sabotaging his draft stock. He'd had legal run-ins that seemed minor -- charges of indecent assault, harassment and disorderly conduct were later dropped -- but they only added to concerns about his character. Basically, Baldwin was a player who could go either way in Kansas City. Currently, he's playing catch-up in the integrity department.
This is where Bowe can make all the difference, as he displayed plenty of his own potentially career-killing flaws in his first three seasons. He was once too caught up in becoming a star without putting in the necessary work. When he wasn't dropping critical passes, he was fawning over himself in comments to the media. Bowe finally burned himself in May 2010 when his public admission that Chiefs veterans "imported" women on road trips made skeptics wonder if he'd ever get what it takes to be a professional.
Pioli and Chiefs head coach Todd Haley received plenty of credit for turning Bowe around last season -- when he led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions, made his first Pro Bowl and stopped talking to the media -- but that's not entirely fair. Bowe had to make a huge decision about what to do with his career, and now Baldwin is about to face the same choice. Bowe had to learn the hard way, by being buried on the depth chart when Haley first joined the team two years ago. Baldwin must face the dual embarrassment of knowing he's hurt the Chiefs' offense and his own development with an injury that could sideline him throughout the preseason.
Bowe already had tried to offer Baldwin valuable advice before the skirmish, including the importance of reporting to camp in shape and not letting Haley's constant criticism drive Baldwin bonkers. Now it's time for Bowe to take the next step in the leadership department. If he hasn't done so already, he needs to pull Baldwin aside and explain how fragile an NFL career can be. He needs to let Baldwin know that being a first-round pick only means you have more responsibility on your shoulders, more reasons to prove why you belong at this level in the first place.
Bowe has to do these things not only because it will help Baldwin and the Chiefs in the long run, but also because it will prove how much Bowe has grown as a player. It's no longer enough for him to be an impressive talent who produces nice numbers. It's time for him to reveal that he's also capable of truly being an integral part of the foundation the Chiefs are trying to build.
One glance around the Chiefs locker room is all it takes to see how vital that transition is for Bowe. Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel are gone. Jones and 16-year center Casey Wiegmann are nearing the end of their careers. There are certainly more than enough young, talented players on the roster, but Bowe has as much leadership potential as anybody in the room. He had the charisma before. Now he has the credibility.
Regardless of how immature Baldwin may seem, players like him will always notice a veteran like Bowe. That's because Bowe has been to a place that Baldwin surely wants to get to, a level that includes glory, recognition and validation. What Bowe has to realize is that even those rewards don't come without their own price. The higher he climbs in this profession, the more he'll need to help others with similar temperaments find their own way.
This is what Jerry Rice did for Terrell Owens and what Cris Carter did for Randy Moss. Reggie Wayne wouldn't be nearly as great in Indianapolis if he hadn't followed Marvin Harrison, and it's fair to say that Greg Jennings has blossomed quickly in Green Bay because Donald Driver was around when he arrived.
This isn't to say Bowe is heading for the Hall of Fame or that Baldwin couldn't create his own impressive legacy if everything fell right. It's just common sense. All young players need guidance, and they tend to learn best from those who already understand the road map.
At this stage, there's no way of knowing what caused the altercation between Baldwin and Jones -- neither have commented on it -- and how it will impact the Chiefs going forward. What is apparent is that Jones isn't the man who can make Baldwin a better player following this controversy. That task should fall to a fifth-year receiver who many thought would get in his own way when it came to finding success in the league. Now that Bowe has proven his doubters wrong, it's time for him to help Baldwin believe he can do the same things for himself.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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