Just days before the Kansas City Chiefs face off with the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Round, the defending Super Bowl champions have added one of Cleveland’s most talented, but troubled playmakers in recent years to their roster.
According to Yahoo Sports senior NFL reporter Terez Paylor on Wednesday, the Chiefs have signed WR Antonio Callaway to a reserve/future deal. The contract will not take effect until the beginning of the new league year on March 17, also the official opening of free agency and about one month prior to the start of offseason workouts.
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) January 13, 2021
While the 24-year-old wideout won’t be suiting up for Kansas City this postseason or any time soon, the timing of the move is interesting given Sunday’s playoff matchup. Callaway is the second player the Chiefs have signed to an offseason contract in as many days after the team brought on former Washington State and Seattle Seahawks QB Anthony Gordon on Tuesday.
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Red Flags Caused Callaway to Slide in 2018 NFL Draft
Callaway, who originally entered the league as a fourth-round pick (No. 105 overall) of the Browns in 2018, most recently played for his hometown Miami Dolphins earlier this season, catching two passes for 20 yards in five games before being waived on December 21. For his career, Callaway has posted 53 receptions, 695 yards and five touchdowns, all during his rookie campaign in Cleveland.
The on-field ability of the Florida product has been overshadowed by maturity issues dating back to his college days. While Callaway possessed all the talent of a top draft pick, including 4.41 speed, sexual assault accusations and a positive marijuana test at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine were just a couple of the contributing factors that led to his draft-day slide.
His NFL.com scouting report outlined a few initial red flags in even greater detail:
He faced a sexual assault trial between his freshman and sophomore year but was cleared of those charges before the 2016 season by admitting during the hearing he was “so stoned” he did not want to have sex with anyone. He was also cited for marijuana possession in May 2017 as a passenger in a car stopped because the driver wasn’t wearing his seat belt; he pled no contest to possession of paraphernalia in July 2017. Callaway never played in 2017 because of his involvement in a credit card fraud scheme with other teammates. Instead of looking for reinstatement or a transfer, he decided to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Coincidentally enough, it was ex-Chiefs and Browns general manager John Dorsey who ultimately took a flier on Callaway, who NFL.com previously compared to Florida teammate and current Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson — a 2021 unrestricted free agent.
Antonio Callaway's only full NFL season (his rookie year) was statistically very similar to (and actually slightly more productive than) Mecole Hardman's in 2020.
This is a worthy risk-free flyer on a player who possesses talent, but has had maturity issues in the past.
— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 13, 2021
Callaway’s Early NFL Career Derailed by Off-Field Issues
As a rookie, an August 2018 traffic stop resulting in multiple citations, including marijuana possession and driving without a valid license — the first of which was later dismissed — was amplified by the presence of HBO’s Hard Knocks. The widely followed show captured a candid exchange between Callaway, Dorsey and then-head coach Hue Jackson after the first-year wideout failed to proactively inform the team of his wrongdoing.
After apologizing for the incident in front of his teammates and telling them, “It won’t happen no more,” Callaway again found himself in hot water the next summer.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, who also showed up to training camp out of shape that year, according to then-offensive coordinator Todd Monken, was found in violation of the league’s substance abuse policy and suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season. After four games of middling production upon his return, the Browns elected to part ways with Callaway on November 14 after learning of a looming 10-game suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Now, it’s Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and his staff who will get to see if the talented receiver and return man can put it all together this offseason. Even if Callaway does show signs of improvement and maturity, he may find it difficult to break through Kansas City’s logjam of playmakers even if Robinson and Sammy Watkins depart via free agency.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!