Chiefs' Bowe at crossroads

Dwayne Bowe's (82) recent revelation to ESPN The Magazine has landed him in hot water again. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There are basically two ways to look at the recent controversy surrounding Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

One view is that his recent revelation of the scandalous road-trip habits of teammates is further evidence that he's both an immature and underachieving talent. The other perspective is one that I'm taking. It's the notion that Bowe's recent foot-in-mouth trick might be the best thing to happen to him.

The Chiefs keep saying that this is a critical year for Bowe, a 2007 first-round draft pick who is entering his fourth NFL season. He now has more motivation than ever to make good on those expectations. At this point, Bowe can continue to be defined for silliness, inconsistency and an apparent disinterest in pursuing greatness. On the other hand, he can use this latest misstep as a reason to take the game more seriously, to prove that he's more than just another skilled athlete who seems just happy to be in the league.

Chiefs coach Todd Haley is hoping the latter is indeed the case. Although the coach refused to answer any questions about Bowe's comments -- and the receiver did not elaborate, either -- Haley did use a Monday postpractice news conference to remind people that Bowe needs to mature.

"I'm looking at Dwayne no different than the other guys [on the team]," Haley said. "He's a young player learning on the go. He's learning the things that it takes to be talked about as a great player. He's had a much better offseason than last year, and that's progress. The other thing [the comments] are family business, so I don't get caught up in that."

For the record, Bowe's quotes -- he told ESPN The Magazine that he watched veterans "import" girls to a hotel on a road trip during his rookie year -- will lose their impact shortly. It's not revelatory that pro athletes have groupies. There are few Chiefs veterans left from the 2007 season to curse his presence in the locker room. Monday, no one in the Chiefs' locker room wanted to address the Bowe controversy.

Sure, Bowe broke an obvious statute in the man code. But he's had far bigger issues to address.

This is the same guy who was overweight when he started offseason workouts last season. Bowe also was so unimpressive during training camp that Haley demoted him briefly. Throw in a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and an inability to develop into a true No. 1 receiver, and you can see where this is going. It's hard to think Haley and general manager Scott Pioli have much patience left to offer a player who was expected to dominate by now.

Haley often has spoken about Bowe's potential and the importance of the player maximizing it. Haley also knows what he's talking about when it comes to great receivers, especially because the former Arizona Cardinals assistant worked with Pro Bowlers such as Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald before arriving in Kansas City. The question is whether Bowe finally has tired of being a player who's never mentioned with the game's rising stars. You'd think he'd have enough ego and pride to will himself into those kinds of circles.

This isn't to say Bowe has been a disaster.

He did catch 70 passes as a rookie and another 86 in 2008. (Bowe's abbreviated 2009 season resulted in 47 receptions.) The former LSU star is not the least impressive receiver in the 2007 draft class. When you start talking about first-round disappointments at that position, players such as San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr., San Diego's Craig Davis and Carolina's Dwayne Jarrett should top the list.

But the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Bowe has to know that the fourth year for an NFL receiver is as critical as Haley has claimed. It's the moment of truth in many ways, a time when a breakout campaign is vital for the trust of coaches and quarterbacks. You can sift through a Pro Bowl roster and find plenty of wideouts who blossomed at that point in their careers, including Dallas' Miles Austin, Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward. Bowe, for all his shortcomings, has enough talent to make the same strides those players made at this stage.

The general feeling about receivers with Bowe's level of experience is that they should have a strong grasp of the position by now. They should understand how to recognize coverages, set up defensive backs and establish a natural chemistry with their quarterbacks. The game, in other words, should slow down for them. They should be seeing and doing things that separate them from the pack.

We'll see whether Bowe can showcase that level of growth because the Chiefs clearly are counting on it happening. They didn't select a true receiver in the draft, and their only significant move in free agency involved re-signing 31-year-old Chris Chambers. Pioli has had plenty of chances to look for other options to improve his passing game. That he's placed so much faith in Bowe indicates this team isn't ready to offer a final analysis on his talent just yet.

As for Bowe, he needs to see his latest problems as one more reason he has to commit himself to being a professional. He hasn't made the most of his gifts so far, and he has to understand there's a future price to be paid for his limited focus. Sure, Bowe has had a tough few days because he couldn't keep a filter on his big mouth. What he can't afford to do now is let those statements be the only thing people remember about his fourth season in the league.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.