Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Landing Marshall a Coup for Bears

By trading for Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall yesterday, Bears GM Phil Emery showed he's not only serious about making moves to help the team, but that he's focused on bringing in the weapons to surround his franchise quarterback. The move exceeded the expectations of going out and trying to sign Vincent Jackson. When you combine his addition with the signing of Jason Campbell, it's easy to see that Emery has come out swinging in his debut for the Bears.

The Bears finally have a true #1 receiver
Before getting into any of his baggage, just look for a second at his numbers. At 6'4, 230 pounds, he's the perfect big, fast, and physical receiver that a number 1 receiver can be. He put up 81 catches and 1,200 yards for Miami last year with Matt Moore and Chad Henne as his quarterbacks. Where are those QB's now? Henne is looking for a backup's job somewhere and Miami is considering bringing in Matt Flynn, who's never been a starter, to start over Matt Moore. Here, you put Marshall with a good, potentially elite quarterback. And even more than that, the two played together before and flourished. In 2007 and 2008, the years they played together, Marshall put up 102 catches, 1,325 yards, and 7 TD's in 2007; and 104 catches, 1,265 yards, and 6 TD's in 2008. Cutler similarly had monster years at the same time, with 3,497 yards and 20 TD's in 2007 and 4,526 yards and 25 TD's in 2008. Let that soak in for a minute, because that tandem is in Chicago now.

Besides the numbers, the impact that Marshall will have on the offense is tremendous. If the Bears don't screw up and they actually get Forte signed, it will make his job within the offense so much easier. Forte somehow put up great numbers last year while defenses were able to stack the box without any legitimate or consistent deep threat to keep them honest. Imagine what he'll be able to do now that another superstar skill player will be in the same offense. It will take the pressure off of Jay Cutler, who will know that he has a reliable playmaker to help bail him out sometimes. It will help the offensive line, who will face less pressure knowing that the defense will have to ease off to try and contain Marshall.

Hopefully this means big things for Knox
But perhaps the most intriguing player it could help is Johnny Knox. The acquisition of Brandon Marshall puts Knox in a situation that reminds me of one that Pierre Garcon just left in Indianapolis. The similarities between the two are striking. Both are from small schools, both were late draft picks, both are extremely fast players, both are the same height, and both have very similar career numbers. You could even argue that Knox has been more productive, considering that he's been in the league one less year than Garcon but is only 300 yards behind him in his career. But if you were a GM looking at receivers, and you had to choose between the two, you'd pick Garcon. Why? Besides the fact that Garcon has 20 pounds on Knox, it's the fact that Garcon had time to develop and prove himself as a number 2 receiver under a physical and elite receiver:  Reggie Wayne. Now, I'd expect Knox to hit the weight room, and as long as he's recovered from that gruesome injury at the end of the year, he now has a huge, physical, and elite receiver to develop under instead of being incorrectly cast as a top receiver. If he can start to follow the same path as Garcon, he'll be immensely valuable. Just look at the contract Garcon just got and you can see how the league thinks of him.

With these leaders, Marshall is in the perfect situation
The knock on Marshall is the off field problems, especially including the most recent one that happened a few days ago. All of the problems that have dogged him his entire career probably contributed to the Bears getting him for a couple third round picks, but let's not forget his behavior. It's something that he is going to need to prove he can change. Having said that, I feel that Marshall is coming into a situation where his behavior will change. The Bears are very much a veteran team, loaded with leaders like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Jay Cutler, and Matt Forte. Even the coaching staff is filled with veterans with coaches like Lovie Smith, Mike Tice, and Rod Marinelli all with vast experience to handle a player like Marshall. All told, the amount of support and respect in place will hopefully have an impact on Marshall and force some positive change.

In this way, the acquisition of an elite player who happens to be a problem child reminds me of the Bulls bringing in Dennis Rodman in the mid 90s. Rodman, like Marshall, bounced around the NBA, even though he was the best rebounder in the league, due to the fact that he had serious off the field problems. But the Bulls, knowing they had a team of veterans and leaders with Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, and Scottie Pippen, picked him up and incorporated him into the Bulls support group. There's something about the universal respect of those players, and also the ones on the Bears, that keeps guys like Rodman and Marshall in line. I think that's the impact that will happen here. I can't imagine Marshall walking into a locker room owned by Urlacher and company and not changing his ways. Plus, he's so good that even if he's suspended a couple games to start this season he's worth it. And anyways, if the Bears were to go out and not acquire players who have problems, they probably wouldn't be able to even field a team.

Cutler finally has his number 1 receiver
On top of all this, I love what the Marshall trade and signing of QB Jason Campbell says about the way that Phil Emery conducts business. Prior to yesterday, we hadn't heard much from him and really didn't know how he would come out and operate. Well, he came out with a bang, not only acquiring a number 1 receiver like we needed, but getting the one that best suits his franchise QB. That's a move that can't be forgotten about. We need to remember how much the NFL has morphed into a passing league. The Bears need to find parts that fit this trend. They already did the hard part, getting the potential franchise QB. But under Jerry Angelo, the Bears dropped the ball on the rest. Emery, though, seems focused on getting whatever is necessary for Cutler to flourish.

I love the Jason Campbell signing. Here's a guy who could be a starter in this league, and when he actually has started he's put up good numbers. When you combine him with Emery bringing back Josh McCown, you see how the Bears, for once in what seems like ages, can truly call the QB position a strength of the team. I know I'm not alone when I'm excited to see what else Emery is going to do. We are probably going to miss out on Mario Williams, but I hope we can find a young up and coming defensive end to bring in to fill that void. We need some help on the offensive line. I think we should go grab another receiver, someone like Eddie Royal, to bolster that area even more. We'll have to wait and see what develops, but one thing's for sure: for a fanbase that was desperate to see some changes, the acquisition of an elite wide receiver and making the quarterbacks as a strength of the team is a blistering start for Phil Emery.