Brandon Marshall’s time with the Chicago Bears is over. In a bold move finalized Friday, new Bears general manager Ryan Pace has agreed to trade the five-time Pro Bowl receiver to the New York Jets, signifying a new course for a franchise that’s looking to turn the page after last season’s 5-11 free-fall.
NFL Network reported the Bears will receive a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft in exchange for Marshall. The trade cannot become official until 3 p.m. Tuesday when the NFL’s new league year begins.
Attempts to contact Marshall were not immediately successful. Marshall’s wife, Michi, posted on Instagram a thank-you message to Chicago.
By parting with Marshall, who turns 31 later this month, the Bears will save close to $4 million under the salary cap for the coming season and $7.7 million in cash, providing added cushion to their roster-rebuilding budget. But with the Bears entering free agency approximately $28 million under the cap for 2015, the Marshall move is about far more than economics with Pace and new coach John Fox making it clear they preferred a separation from a player whose drama often overshadows his production.
Marshall finished the 2014 season on injured reserve, missing the Bears’ final three games after suffering fractured ribs and an injured lung in the team’s Week 14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Marshall had been previously hindered last season by a high ankle sprain and finished the year with only 61 catches for 721 yards and eight touchdowns. That marked Marshall’s lowest production since his rookie season in 2006 and snapped a streak of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, a stretch during which he averaged 99 receptions, 1,249 yards and eight scores per year.
Replacing Marshall’s production won’t be easy for Pace. In Marshall’s first two seasons in Chicago, he totaled 218 catches, 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns, immediately emerging as one of the best receivers in franchise history. But the receiver’s exit also will relieve the organization of some of the exhausting tension that has seemed to follow Marshall around throughout his career.
Last season, for example, Marshall found himself in the center of controversy on repeated occasions. In November, he challenged a random Twitter follower to a boxing match during a bizarre social media exchange that intensified after the Lions fan had insulted Marshall’s mother.
To Marshall’s supporters, that episode was overblown and dramatized by the media. But to many within the Bears organization, it was the latest evidence of Marshall’s thin-skinned personality and inability to channel his energy in the right direction.
Marshall previously had caused a stir after the Bears’ Week 7 home loss to the Dolphins when his postgame locker room rant at teammates became audible to reporters waiting outside the locker room. A month earlier, Marshall had requested to hold a 25-minute press conference at Halas Hall to express displeasure with an ESPN piece that had chronicled his past troubles with domestic violence.
And Marshall’s seemingly constant thirst for the spotlight also led him last season to accept a role as a weekly analyst on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” an extracurricular activity he took on with the blessing of former coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery. Marshall made regular Tuesday trips to New York City to tape the show, asserting he was laying the groundwork for his career after football. And he bristled at any criticism that suggested his focus and rest were being compromised by the continuous travel.
At the NFL scouting combine in February, Fox was asked whether he would sign off on Marshall continuing that Showtime endeavor and without giving a direct answer made his philosophy clear.
“I will say that, regardless of who it is, I think their focus and energy needs to remain on what’s going to help us win a championship,” Fox said.
Echoed Pace: “I just want to make sure that we understand the Chicago Bears and football are our No. 1 priority going forward.”
The new Bears regime was intent on performing its due diligence on Marshall, using the time they had to learn more about his background and personality and how he may or may not fit into the team’s vision for the future. But the Bears also faced a deadline of sorts with Marshall’s $7.5 million salary for 2015 set to become guaranteed on March 12, the third day of the new league year. That accelerated the vetting process and led Pace to the conclusion that it made sense to cut ties with Marshall.
That move now leaves the Bears with a major void at receiver. Alshon Jeffery, coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, will slide into the role as the team’s top target. And the Bears can make a push to replace Marshall both in free agency and in this spring’s draft, where a loaded class of incoming receivers could present them with a chance to find a high quality playmaker in any of the first three rounds.
Last season, seven of the league’s 21 1,000-yard receivers were in their first season with a new team, including rookies Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin.
Marshall, meanwhile, is now headed for his fourth team after roller-coaster stints with the Bears, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos.
Entering his 10th NFL season, Marshall never has been on a playoff team.