The Chicago Bears wide receivers were an injured mess last season. Alshon Jeffery missed seven games, while Kevin White, Marquess Wilson and Eddie Royal missed a combined 28 contests.
With so few pass-catching options - which includes Martellus Bennett being sent him in Week 12 - the Bears were forced to rely on relatively unknown players like Josh Bellamy, Cameron Meredith and Marc Mariani in the passing attack.
Of those three, Mariani stood out.
A seventh-round pick out of Montana in 2010, Mariani spent his first two NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Injuries forced him out of the league for two straight seasons until he was signed by the Bears midway through the 2014 campaign.
The former Pro Bowl return man was an afterthought in the passing attack until the injuries began to mount. Mariani then emerged as arguably the most dependable receiver on the team.
He didn't catch a single pass last season until Week 8, then finished with 22 receptions for 300 yards. He was by no means a game breaker but of his 22 catches, 19 went for 1st down. In addition, he was the only receiver on the team who didn't drop a single pass all season. On 3rd downs late in the year, Mariani was by far Jay Cutler's favorite target.
In the season finale, he had a career-high 6 catches for 80 yards, which showed just far he came as a pass catcher.
Mariani began the season as the club's starting punt and kick returner. He averaged 26.1 yards per kickoff return - which was a career low - and was eventualy replaced by Deonte Thompson. He served as the first-team punt returner all year, where he struggled. He averaged just 6.1 yards per punt return - which ranked 21st of 24 qualifying returners - and muffed three punts.
Mariani will soon be 29 and becomes a free agent on March 9. Should the Bears re-sign him?
As a possession receiver in the No. 4 role, Mariani has value on offense. He has good hands and runs good routes, and he's also earned the trust of Cutler, which is big.
As a returner, his value just isn't there. His biggest drawback is a lack of speed, something that became crystal clear once the speedy Thompson began returning kicks. Bottom line: the Bears need a punt returner with the game-changing ability, one who can run away from coverage if given a crease. Mariani is not that player.
Mariani isn't going to hurt the team if he's re-signed but the four-year veteran doesn't bring much to the table and would have never seen the field on offense if it weren't for the injuries.
The Bears would be better off re-signing Thompson, whose speed element has value on offense as well, and letting another team take a chance on Mariani.null