KANSAS CITY -- Jeremy Maclin's arrival in Kansas City two seasons ago served as a homecoming of sorts for the former Missouri Tigers star and St. Louis native. But the reunion ended abruptly when the Chiefs granted the veteran receiver his release Monday, making him a free agent.
The team received nearly $10 million in salary-cap relief from the move, but now head coach Andy Reid must find a new path without the veteran leadership and experience Maclin brought to a young receivers group.
"I don't think you replace him, that's not what you do," Reid said.
Maclin's stint in Kansas City lasted a mere 30 games, but his presence created a lasting impact that leaves fans wondering what the move means for the team's offense.
The ninth-year veteran suffered through the worst season of his career in 2016, and the team's offense sputtered at times with Maclin in and out of the lineup. He played just 12 games during the regular season, catching 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs' passing offense ranked 19th in the league with just 19 touchdown passes.
A healthy and reinvigorated Maclin appeared to be one of the keys to the club's offense clicking again in 2017. Reid made it clear he believes Maclin still has NFL talent.
"I know he's going to hook on with another team, so I'm happy for him there," Reid said. "And he still can play; he'll have production. That's a positive thing."
Part of Maclin's allure as a free agent in 2015 rested on his ability to lead a young receiver group that included second-year players Albert Wilson and De'Anthony Thomas. The team later added rookie Chris Conley to the mix in 2015 followed by Tyreek Hill last season.
The team's ability to thrive after cutting ties with Maclin rests on the lessons that quartet learned from him the past two seasons.
"Albert and Chris, they've spent a lot of time with Jeremy," Reid said. "We've got other guys in there that are great leaders. They understand the game. We've got guys who have been around here for a while and been in the league a while."
Hill stands to gain the most among the team's wide receivers in Maclin's absence. The 23-year-old Hill caught 61 passes as a rookie for 593 yards and six touchdowns while playing just 41 percent of the team's offensive snaps.
The Chiefs typically rotate their receivers, but Reid envisions Hill stepping into Maclin's offensive role.
"He works hard, he's skilled," Reid said of Hill. "Is he still learning? Yeah, he's still learning. I'll tell you that with receivers through a couple of years there, that's what they do until they get all those defenses down. But he'll give you good production at that position."
In addition to Hill, Conley, Wilson and Thomas, the Chiefs invested a fourth-round pick last season in former Florida wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and another fourth-round pick this year in Michigan's Jehu Chesson.
Robinson impressed through offseason practices in recent weeks, displaying improved route running and big-play ability.
"He can go after it," Reid said of Robinson. "He's physical. He can run and do the short stuff too. His strength coming in was he was good after the catch. Wherever you get it to him, that was one of his strengths."
No Chiefs wide receiver has more experience than fourth-year pass catchers Wilson and Thomas. But Reid places faith in the young group rising to the occasion.
"I have a lot of trust in the guys we have here, I'll tell you that," Reid said. "They've worked their tail off, some of them for this opportunity. They're going to get a little more play time. We have full trust they are going to get the job done."
The Chiefs won the AFC West with a 12-4 record last season and have Super Bowl aspirations. Reid said he has no concern that his team might see the release of a key veteran undermining the organization's postseason mission. He also relies on veterans such as quarterback Alex Smith to pick up the slack left behind by Maclin.
"I don't worry about that at all actually," Reid said. "We've got enough talent right here to do whatever we need to do. I don't worry about that. Plus we've got a great locker room."
The release of Maclin affects all of the team's receivers, but perhaps none more than Hill. The rookie speedster turned in his best offensive performances with Maclin out of the lineup. Now Hill inherits Maclin's role as a starter, likely boosting his playing time.
The Chiefs also value Hill's ability to create mismatches anywhere on the field. The rookie receiver lined up in the backfield at times last season, picking up 24 rushes for 267 yards and three touchdowns.
But he also gained first-team All-Pro honors for his role as a kickoff and punt returner. The team faces a dilemma in how to gain maximum utilization of Hill without overusing him.
"You can balance that out where they can do both," Reid said. "You just have to be aware of their workload and what's going on. There's nothing that says they can't do both."
Former NFL veteran Greg Lewis joined the Chiefs' coaching staff this offseason as wide receivers coach. The 37-year-old Lewis spent six seasons as a wide receiver for Reid in Philadelphia.
Now Reid plans to lean on Lewis in developing leadership among his young receivers as well as tapping into their talent.
"We have Greg here too that we've hired, and Greg's been there done that, so he understands how that goes," Reid said. "I've got confidence in that group right there."
Reid used a first-round draft pick to bring Maclin to Philadelphia in 2009, and he was instrumental in bringing Maclin to Kansas City as a free agent in 2015. In between, Reid built a friendship with Maclin that made cutting ties with the wide receiver an emotional decision.
"I think everyone knows I'm very fond of Jeremy," Reid said.
Reid attended Maclin's wedding last month in St. Louis, and he spoke to him after the team made the fateful decision to part ways.
"He knows I love him," Reid said of his conversation with Maclin. "I haven't changed on that. He's a phenomenal person, and I wish him the best of luck. There's not much else you can say."