New Bears general manager Phil Emery came in to Chicago this season looking to immediately upgrade several key positions, including the wide receiver position. While some expected the Bears to go after free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Emery instead worked out a big trade by acquiring Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for two third-round picks. Not only does the three time pro-bowl receiver instantly become Chicago's No. 1 passing option, he is also reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler, a guy who connected with Marshall for almost 2,600 yards and 13 touchdowns their two seasons together in Denver.
Last season, Marshall managed to post some respectable numbers given the total disaster of an offense that the Dolphins put on the field. In a year where five NFL teams had more than 4,700 yards passing, Miami finished 2011 with fewer than 3,100 passing yards as a team, and their 317 yards of offense per game ranked in the bottom third of the league. In spite of the poor quarterbacking and inept offensive supporting cast, Marshall finished with 142 targets, 82 receptions, 1,227 receiving yards, and six touchdowns - good enough for a 13th place ranking among fantasy receivers.
Trouble in Miami
Despite his solid performance, the Dolphins chose to let Marshall go after trading for him just two seasons ago. Marshall never lived up to the high expectations that Miami had for him, and his constant distractions, both on and off the field became too much for the Dolphins to handle. In July 2011, Marshall announced that he had been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, and he frequently clashed with the coaching staff and quarterback Chad Henne last season. When Peyton Manning was cut from Indianapolis, it was rumored that the Dolphins would have to get rid of Marshall if they hoped to attract Manning to sign with them. Just hours after the trade with Chicago was announced, Marshall was accused of punching a woman at a New York nightclub. While the Dolphins never signed Manning and Marshall was recently cleared of any wrongdoing with respect to the nightclub incident, but these are exactly the kind of things that the Dolphins new coaches did not want to deal with. Enter the Chicago Bears.
A Team in Need
The Bears had their own challenges in 2011. After an impressive 7-3 start, the Bears self-destructed, as key injuries contributed to five losses in the final six games, averaging just over 14 points of offense during that stretch. This prompted Chicago to fire general manager Gerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, bringing in Emery at general manager and promoting Mike Tice to offensive coordinator. Johnny Knox, the top receiver in 2011, suffered a nasty spinal injury near the end of the season and is a long shot to play at all this season. Roy Williams was also not brought back after chronic under-performance and several drops in key situations last year. If any team in the NFL needed an upgrade at receiver, it was Chicago. Landing Marshall via trade allowed the Bears to focus on adding depth at quarterback and running back with Jason Campbell and Michael Bush. When they begin the 2012 season, Chicago will look like a very different team, and Marshall will be a big part of that.
Chicago needs Marshall to pick up where he and Cutler left off in Denver. Mike Tice has already committed to moving Jay Cutler around more - letting him expand the pocket - which should keep Cutler upright and help him buy time to find his receivers downfield. Marshall is easily the most talented wide receiver on the team, and with a more fluid offense, Cutler should be able to get Marshall the ball in open space. Although rookie Alshon Jeffery and veterans Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are not exactly elite receivers, they should provide enough of a distraction to keep defenses from double teaming Marshall on every play.
A New Team and a New Opportunity to Dominate
Expect Marshall to have a top-10 fantasy finish this year. If he can post 1,200 yards and six touchdowns in a weak Miami offense with questionable quarterback play, he should be able to exceed that with Jay Cutler at the helm and a stronger offense around him. Remember, Marshall had two 100-catch seasons playing with Cutler in Chicago, and notched another 100-catch campaign with Kyle Orton throwing to him.
The biggest concern may be the state of the offensive line. Jay Cutler recently commented that the offensive changes were not a cure all for a line that has given up more than 100 sacks over the last two seasons. If Cutler doesn't have time to set up or is constantly running for his life, Marshall won't be able to get open, and Cutler will be forced to dump the ball off or look for other short-pass options. While Marshall's off the field antics are still a concern, he appears to be honoring his promise to keep himself clean and in line. The New York issue is completely behind him, and with no formal charges being filed, the league will probably not take any action either.
Immediately becomes the No. 1 wide receiver in Chicago, and Jay Cutler is a big upgrade at quarterback
At least 1,000+ yards receiving in each of the last five seasons, with three 100+ catch seasons in that span
Strong commitment to win and strong support from a team that desperately needs him
Off-field antics have been a distraction in the past and further problems could lead to a suspension by Roger Goodell
Failed to meet high expectations in Miami, and the expectations will be even higher now in Chicago
Poor offensive line play may not give Jay Cutler an opportunity to maximize Marshall’s considerable talents
Brandon Marshall and Chicago look like a great fit on paper. The Bears are in desperate need of a go-to guy like Marshall, and he was desperate to get back to playing for a contender. He has a proven track record of success even with poor quarterback play, so reuniting with Jay Cutler - who helped him produce two truly dominant seasons - bodes well. Marshall excels at turning little plays into big ones, and the Chicago offensive line may not be strong enough to allow Cutler to hold the ball for more than a second or two. Expect Cutler to look for Marshall early and often this season. His size and physical abilities make him a good red zone target as well. If Marshall can continue to keep his off the field issues in check, he should post excellent numbers, and have a top-10 fantasy finish, in both traditional and PPR leagues.
Will Grant's Projections for Brandon Marshall
135 targets 84 receptions 1,248 receiving yards 8 touchdowns