Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trading Brandon Marshall

By Brad Oremland

I never saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But if forgetting Sarah Marshall was anything like as easy as moving on from Brandon Marshall, it must have been a pretty short movie.

Brandon Marshall is one of the most talented receivers I've ever seen. He consistently outmaneuvers defenders, has great hands, breaks tackles, and blocks well. He has, not to put too fine a point on it, a Hall of Fame skill-set. And yet, no one wants him. Marshall showed great promise in limited playing time as a rookie with the Broncos in 2006. The next two years, he had back-to-back 100-catch seasons, tying Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne for the most first down receptions (135) in the NFL. Following a third straight 100-catch, 1,000-yard receiving season, which included a career-high 10 TDs, head coach Josh McDaniels traded Marshall to the Miami Dolphins for a pair of second-round draft picks.

The first pick was used to acquire Tim Tebow, while the second produced starting guard Orlando Franklin. Tebow is out of the NFL and Franklin is a reliable starter, but Marshall made three of the next four Pro Bowls, and he was first-team All-Pro in 2012, rated as the best wide receiver other than Calvin Johnson.

After two productive seasons in Miami, Marshall was traded again. The Bears acquired him in exchange for a pair of third-round draft picks. Marshall responded with perhaps the two best seasons of his career, the all-pro season in 2012 and a brilliant 2013 in which he caught 100 passes (for the fifth time), led the league in receiving first downs (70), and set a career-high for TD receptions (12). Marshall battled through injury in 2014 to make some amazing plays, including a critical first down catch in traffic, which led to a season-ending injury. During his time in Chicago, Marshall also created running lanes for Matt Forte and mentored Alshon Jeffery.

Now Chicago has shipped him off even more cheaply than the Broncos and Dolphins did. On Friday, the Jets acquired Marshall, and the Bears acquired a fifth-round draft pick. Seriously, a fifth-round pick? Those guys don't make the team out of training camp half the time.

I get it, kind of. Marshall is outspoken and a bit of a live wire. He's an emotional player who gets upset when the team isn't doing well. The Bears are coming off two disappointing seasons, and they're trying to start over, with a new coaching staff and a fresh start in the locker room. The team needed to drop salary. There wasn't have a lot of leverage in trade negotiations. But this trade was a rip-off. Shipping him out for a fifth-rounder indicates that the Bears just wanted to get rid of Marshall. This wasn't about acquiring value, it was about dropping someone the team didn't want, and doing it in a way that wouldn't totally outrage the fan base.

But Bears fans should be outraged. Marshall has helped every team he's played on, and 31 (his birthday is later this month) is not old for a receiver. At some point, you look at an immensely talented player, who's been traded three times in the last five years, and conclude that he is a serious problem off the field. But the record doesn't really support that idea. Marshall isn't Terrell Owens. He's seldom in the news for reasons other than his play, he doesn't publicly antagonize teammates, and he doesn't flip out twice a season because something made him frustrated.

Chicago made a mistake last year by giving Jay Cutler a rich extension. Now, the team has compounded that mistake by giving away a valuable asset for next to nothing.

There's a lot of other news in the player movement department, and I won't try to hit everything, but we'll address a few highlights:

* Chip Kelly's plan in Philadelphia reminds me of Josh McDaniels as coach of the Broncos. Aggressive, unexpected moves are fine as long as you're winning, but doing anything different is not tolerated in the NFL unless accompanied by grand success. Kiko Alonso had a good rookie season in Buffalo, and running backs don't age well. In that respect, I think Kelly and the Eagles were probably smart to trade LeSean McCoy while he still has value. But if McCoy has three more good years, or Alonso never recovers the form he showed in 2013, Kelly is in for some serious backlash.

* The Patriots let Darrelle Revis hit free agency. It's not a huge surprise. Revis is an incredibly gifted cornerback, and he was a key player in New England's Super Bowl run last season. But he's going to command a huge salary in 2015, and apart from Tom Brady, the Pats have always been pretty strict about not putting themselves in salary cap trouble. They'd rather have a bunch of good players than a stars-and-scrubs roster, with minimum-salary schmoes filling in the gaps alongside a few highly-priced stars. That strategy works in fantasy football, but it doesn't seem nearly as effective in real life. New England will miss Revis, but the team will find something productive to do with those salary cap dollars.

* Ndamukong Suh is headed to Miami. Suh is a monster, but there's something bugging me ... Suh is a better player than Albert Haynesworth, and he seems to have a passion for football that wasn't obvious in Haynesworth. But the last big contract handed out to a star defensive tackle that stomps on dudes — that didn't work out so well. If I were a Dolphins fan, this signing would make me excited, and nervous.

* Monday was a rough one for the San Francisco 49ers. Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati announced his intention to sign with a division rival, the Arizona Cardinals. Fullback Bruce Miller was arrested on domestic assault charges. And two key defensive players announced that they would retire. Justin Smith isn't a huge surprise; although he's still a valuable player, he's been in the league a long time and his body has surely taken a beating. The shock is Patrick Willis, who missed most of the season with an injury, but who is only 30. Willis was a good player, but probably not so good that he's likely to make the Hall of Fame after such a short career.

* Last year, Chase Stuart declared Aaron Donald the NFL Combine MVP, and Donald went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Out of respect for that track record, Kentucky linebacker Bud Dupree aced Stuart's combine analysis this year, with the best weight-adjusted 40-yard dash (4.56), vertical jump (42"), and broad jump (138") at this year's combine. There's some concern about his football skill, but certainly the guy is an athlete, and the potential is there for him to become a really big star.

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