Before the Chicago Bears Week 7 contest against the Miami Dolphins, I was asked on Miami radio what type of person Brandon Marshall has been since coming to the Windy City. The radio host said Marshall was considered a locker room cancer for the Dolphins and the organization was ready for him to move on, which is why they accepted just two third-round picks for one of the game’s best pass catchers.
My response was that, while I was aware of his past, the Marshall that was vilified in Denver and Miami was not the player I’ve come to know in two-plus seasons covering him.
So it’s ironic for me that Marshall is suddenly on the verge of again becoming a danger to his third NFL locker room.
His locker-room outburst last week following the game was warranted, yet not everyone treated it with a warm reception, no matter what his teammates have said publicly since.
Yet it’s not his attitude off the field that could hurt the team, it’s the attitude he’s displayed on the field the past two weeks that is concerning.
Go back and watch the tape, Marshall’s body language the past two weeks is night-and-day different than it’s ever been since coming to Chicago. His frustration at the team’s lack of success has carried over to game day and that, more than anything, will drag this team down.
He walks away from plays with slumped shoulders, he demonstratively chucks balls at the referees and, most importantly, he’s not finishing plays. In essence, he’s pouting and if he continues, the offense will never get back on the right path.
Marshall is key to the success of this offense. When he plays poorly, more often than not, the offense underachieves. Such has been the case this year, as Marshall has just one 100-yard receiving effort and five games of 48 receiving yards or less.
This was the 5th-ranked passing offense in 2013 returning all 11 starters this year, yet Marshall’s struggles – as well as those of Jay Cutler, who leads the league with 12 turnovers – have led to a 3-5 record.
And after one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, a 51-23 pummeling at the hands of the Patriots, today Marshall took time to talk to the media, telling us to “Put your ears closer to the door” as he walked into the locker room.
So you tell me where Marshall’s head is?
Marshall was known as a diva receiver who wore out his welcome with both the Broncos and Dolphins. Up until two weeks ago, I often wondered if all that was overblown. Obviously, it wasn’t.
Now it’s worth wondering, if this season continues to unravel, how far will the tentacles of Marshall’s discontent permeate the rest of the team? He’s a larger-than-life figure, one who has the ear of many of his teammates. Yet he’s also polarizing and there are folks at Halas Hall who consider Marshall a me-first athlete.
If those two factions divide, what chance do the Bears have of going on a second-half run and making the playoffs, especially when Marshall won’t fight for jump balls.
My long-time readers know I’m not one who sensationalizes player attitudes. I’ve witnessed first-hand behavior of Jay Cutler that is far worse than the way in which he’s portrayed by the media, which is extremely negative to begin with. Yet I believe Cutler is actually a good teammate and I’ve never let my personal bias of him affect my coverage of him as a quarterback.
With Marshall, it's different, as I'm not sure he's a good teammate. I believe he truly wants to win but it seems like the pot is about to boil over. When it does, that could scald a large portion of the team and make it nearly impossible for the Bears to have a successful 2014 campaign.
The team has eight games left, five of which are divisional contests. Even at 3-5, a strong finish to the year could propel the team to the postseason. Yet it won’t happen if one of the team leaders acts like a team cancer.
If Marshall continues to carry his frustrations on the field, all will be lost for the Bears this year.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.