Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles is once again on the bench with a knee injury. He tore his ACL last year, so the initial reports about this year’s injury suggested that he would be out for the rest of this season. He had barely returned, the Chiefs had used him in an incredibly limited fashion in just a few games, and it looked like it was over.
Not so fast. A few days ago, reports started coming out that the team hoped he could actually return at the very end of the regular season or for a postseason run. Kevin Patra wrote that:
“The Kansas City Chiefs hope Jamaal Charles won’t be on the shelf the rest of the season…while the running back’s surgery to trim his meniscus landed him injured reserve, the procedure could allow Charles to return in weeks rather than months. The Chiefs could use the designated to return tag after Charles sits out eight weeks. The target date for a return is Week 17 if the Chiefs need him, or, more likely, if K.C. makes the playoffs and Charles is deemed healthy, he could be back for a potential postseason run…instead of needing to repair the meniscus — like Adrian Peterson underwent — Charles needed only a trim, which was as minor as the surgery could have been, thus the optimism for a return.”
Now, there are a lot of “ifs” here. If he recovers on schedule. If there are no setbacks. If the Chiefs even make the playoffs.
But, really, do the Chiefs even need to be asking those questions? Should they consider bringing him back at all?
First off, say they do make the postseason, perhaps by winning the AFC West – which the Raiders control right now – or perhaps as a wild card. They’ll have gotten there 99 percent without Charles. Do they really want to upset the chemistry and offensive identity when the most important games of the year are coming up? Yes, Charles is an extreme talent, but the Chiefs at that point would have been winning very consistently without him – if they aren’t, after all, they won’t make the postseason and none of this matters.
Don’t fix what’s not broken, and the Chiefs may have to consider what’s best for the team.
They also have to consider what happened this time around. It always felt like Charles was pushing to come back, wanting desperately to get back on the field. The Chiefs were trying to be more careful and hold him back. Finally, they gave in, let him play, and he was underwhelming.
In three games, he got a grand total of 12 carries for 40 yards. He looked on the verge of a heroic return in his second game, running the ball nine times for 33 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. That proved to be an aberration, though, or it was too much for him. He got just one carry for zero yards the following week, against a soft Saints run defense, and then was back on IR.
That’s not the type of play the Chiefs want in their first playoff game. Yes, Charles may want to be there, but this is about winning. Especially in the playoffs. If Spencer Ware gives them the best chance to win, then he needs the carries. Not Charles. No matter what it would mean to him personally.
Finally, they have to think long term. Charles has a long injury history. It includes multiple knee injuries, including a pair of torn ACLs. He’s 29 yards old, but his birthday is in December, so he’ll be 30 – that infamous wall for running backs – when he returns.
This already could be the end for Charles. If there’s any hope that it’s not, they can’t rush him just to get him on the field in the postseason. It’s not just a risk for the team, but a risk for him.