If you didn’t know, Dexter McCluster isn’t a wide receiver; he’s simply been masquerading as one for the past couple of seasons.
The Kansas City Chiefs have attempted to utilize the do-it-all McCluster in a variety of different ways throughout his four seasons in KC, but he’s only made an impact on special teams of late. He was named All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner in 2013.
With only an estimated $9 million in cap space, it’s been known for some time that re-signing McCluster is a luxury that GM John Dorsey just couldn’t afford. It became official only minutes after free agency began on Tuesday, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported DMC had agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal with the Tennessee Titans.
The move will surely upset the majority of Chiefs Nation, but know it’s for the best. McCluster served as Kansas City’s No. 2 wideout behind Dwayne Bowe in 2013-14, finishing with 53 receptions for 511 yards. However, he’s easily replaceable in this respect. He doesn’t possess great hands and as fast as he is, he doesn’t do much following the catch. In fact, he’s likely even upgradable.
Yes, he was QB Alex Smith‘s favorite target on third down, but only out of necessity; opposing defenses routinely focused the bulk of their attention on Bowe and Jamaal Charles. He never displayed the big-play potential he possessed on special teams when lined up in the slot.
Moreover, McCluster’s role as a change-of-pace back has disappeared over the past two seasons. After recording 100-plus carries and 516 yards rushing in 2011, he’s only seen 20 carries in the last two years combined. Sure, it must be taken into account that the Chiefs’ own arguably the NFL‘s best running back in Charles, but it’s clear McCluster no longer provides the spark out of the backfield that he once did.
Kansas City will likely experience a small hit on special teams, but it’s certainly worth the approximately $4 million per year it’ll save. The Chiefs’ punt return unit is just that: a unit. McCluster is one of the league’s top return men, but the other 10 men on the field played an equally big role in his success. A returner is only as good as the blockers ahead of him, as was the case in Kansas City last season.
If offseason acquisition Joe McKnight can make it through the summer, I expect the job will become his. He’s primarily a kick returner, but returned punts in college at USC and was an All-Pro returner in 2011. Sure, there will be a drop-off, but not a $4 million one.
McCluster was a fan favorite, but moving on is clearly best for both sides. DMC will be utilized more frequently in Titans’ coach Ken Wisenhunt‘s system and will likely reprise his role in the backfield. Kansas City will save a crucial chunk of change and be able to sign a true wideout to lighten Bowe’s load.
It may not be the move that Chiefs fans wanted, but it’s one that they needed.