Warts and all, Marshall the right move

The problems that Brandon Marshall has had off the field are well documented. Yet given his production and relative cost, trading for his services was a smart move by GM Phil Emery.

When Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery held a conference call this week with local media, he was peppered with questions regarding the off-the-field incidents of the team's newest receiver, Brandon Marshall.

One journalist, in a somewhat heated exchange, implied Emery has a win-no-matter-the-cost attitude.

The contentious nature of the conference call is understandable, especially when you consider Marshall's long record of incidents involving women.

Marshall explained away his past problems at Friday's press conference, blaming his inability to control his anger on borderline personality disorder.

WR Brandon Marshall
David Banks/US Presswire

"On the field, [the disorder] made me a millionaire. It's made me one of the best receivers in the league," said Marshall. "But off the field, it made me the guy that you guys are talking about on TV right now. That was the old me. That was me a year ago."

He said he's a new person after finally receiving treatment.

"This is the perfect time to show everyone the progress that I have made. This is the perfect time for everyone, for the media, to see the growth in me – and better yet, for us to make an impact in the community."

Some might find that hard to believe, as he was accused of punching a woman just this past weekend. Those are accusations made by one person though, in a he-said, she-said situation outside a nightclub. Marshall said the investigation is ongoing and that the NYPD have not contacted him about the alleged assault.

"As of right now, (NYPD) do not want to talk to me," he said. "I believe in due time, the truth will come out, and we're excited about that."

Say what you will about his past problems, or the baggage he brings to Chicago, one thing is for certain: he has never let off-the-field distractions affect his play on the field.

Since 2007, his first year as a regular starter, Marshall ranks second in the NFL in receptions with 474 and fifth in receiving yards with 5,938. Marshall is one of three players to have at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past five seasons along with Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White.

"We really like Brandon Marshall the player," said Emery. "[He has the] second most catches out of any wideout in the NFL in the last five years. Five consecutive seasons of 80 or more catches and over 1,000 yards. There's not very many players in the NFL that have done that."

And what can't be denied is the chemistry that Marshall and Cutler developed while the two played together in Denver. As teammates on the 2008 Broncos, their last season together, Cutler targeted Marshall an NFL-high 179 times – 33 more times than any other QB-receiver combination. That's the most times a QB has targeted a player in a single season in the last four years.

Brandon Marshall & Jay Cutler
David Banks/US Presswire

For their efforts that season, both were elected to the Pro Bowl.

Marshall is a player who brings unquestionable talent and production to a team desperate for help at the receiver position. No wideout on the roster had more than 37 catches last year – the fewest receptions of any NFL team's leading receiver in 2011. The last Bears player to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season was Marty Booker in 2002. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bears' nine straight seasons without reaching 1,000 receiving yards is the longest active streak in the NFL.

Chicago made a huge trade in 2009 to bring in a franchise quarterback and have since surrounded him with mediocre receivers. Emery did what former GM Jerry Angelo wasn't willing to: invest in talented offensive players.

That investment came in the form of two third round draft picks. When you consider Marshall's production the last five seasons, that is a downright steal.

He wore out his welcome in both Denver and Miami, so it's likely, when Marshall's contract is up after the 2014 season, the Bears will be more than happy to let him walk. Marshall says he has turned his life around but the proof is in the pudding.

Yet as long as he performs on the field, who is going to complain? Marshall has always been able to push aside his personal problems on Sundays. There is no reason to think he won't be able to do that going forward.

On top of his production, one must also grade this move in terms of his price tag. Chicago traded two third rounder's for Marshall – one this year and one next year – yet the club had an extra third this in this year's draft, acquired from the Greg Olsen trade last offseason. Essentially, the Bears traded away Olsen and a third rounder for one of the most-dominant receivers in the game.

Advantage Emery.

And when you consider Marshall's salary, compared to some of the ridiculous free-agent contracts doled out this past week, this deal looks even more attractive.

The biggest free agent wideout on the market this year was Vincent Jackson. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for five years at more than $11 million per season.

Marshall will make roughly $9 million per year through 2014. He's a year younger than Jackson and has played one less season, yet Marshall has 222 more catches, 1,493 more receiving yards, one more Pro Bowl appearance and only three fewer touchdowns.

WR Brandon Marshall
Kirby Lee/US Presswire

Essentially, the Bears got a younger player with far better numbers at about $1.8 million less per season than Jackson – the player everyone in Chicago was clamoring for leading up to free agency, one that also brings baggage.

Move down the line with the other free-agent contracts: DeSean Jackson, PHI (five years, $51 million); Pierre Garcon, WAS (five years, $42 million); Josh Morgan, WAS (two years, $12 million); Eddie Royal, SD (three years, $13.5 million); Laurent Robinson (five years, $32.5 million); Marques Colston (five years, $40 million); Robert Meachem, SD (four years, $26 million).

There isn't a player on that list whose production can compare to Marshall's, yet they all got overpaid due to the dearth of available talent at wide receiver. If Marshall had been a free agent this offseason, he would have commanded $2 million-$3 million more more per season than what the Bears will pay him.

Chicago was able to save money in the Marshall deal and used that toward re-signing key players like Israel Idonije, Craig Steltz and Tim Jennings. It also allowed them to shore up the backup QB spot with the free-agent signing of Jason Campbell.

No one is condoning what Marshall has done off the field. But if he continues to be a Pro Bowler on the field, at a very reasonable price tag, everyone will be able to look beyond his past transgressions.

And if they re-occur? Well, at least he' only signed for three years.

Given the exploding market for wide receivers in a league that gets pass happier by the season, coupled with Marshall's relative on-field value and the team's desperate need for a No. 1 wideout, this move was definitely worth the inherent risk.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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