Bears forgo free agency to add big-name receiver and bring former Broncos' teammates back together
The Chicago Bears have a new wide receiver. Introductions, however, will not be necessary for quarterback Jay Cutler as his new weapon is also a familiar face.
The Bears acquired Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, a move that overshadowed the beginning of free agency when it was announced. The move reunites Cutler and Marshall, who played together in Denver from 2006-08. Miami will receive Chicago's third-round picks in this year's and the 2013 NFL Draft in exchange for Marshall.
Headed into free agency it was clear the Bears' most pressing need was to add a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. To that end, there was widespread speculation that the Bears had identified free agent Vincent Jackson as their top target. Instead, the team decided to make the deal for Marshall and can now turn its focus to addressing other needs through free agency.
Whether or not Marshall was their intended target all along isn't clear, but this much is — he comes at a much cheaper cost than Jackson. Marshall is under contract for three more years and stands to earn a little more than $28 million over that period. The amount he will count towards the Bears' cap each of these years is less than $10 million.
Contrast that to Jackson, who signed a five-year contract worth more than $55 million with Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Jackson's cap hit is reported to be $13 million for the first two seasons of the deal. Marshall's also a year younger than Jackson, as he will turn 28 later this month. Jackson turned 29 in January.
Although it cost the Bears two draft picks, the trade for Marshall allows them the opportunity to use their remaining cap space to address other needs. The Bears had about $24 million in cap space to work with at the start of free agency. This amount places him in the upper-third of the league in terms of available cap space, which should put them in a good position to fill other holes through free agency.
Regardless of what other moves the Bears make, this has already been a successful offseason for first-year general manager Phil Emery. Not only has he filled a glaring need on the roster, he did it with a move that really didn't cost the team a great deal and it's also sure to fire up the city and the Bears' devoted fan base.
One Chicagoan who is definitely excited about Marshall coming to town is Cutler. Cutler's two best seasons as a passer came in 2008 and '09 in Denver. In those two seasons, Cutler averaged nearly 4,100 yards passing and 26 touchdowns, while completing better than 61 percent of his passes. Cutler made the Pro Bowl in 2008 when he threw for more than 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.
It's no coincidence that in those same two seasons Marshall was Cutler's top target. In 2008-09 combined Marshall had 205 catches, 2,365 yards receiving and 16 touchdown receptions. He also had a 102 receptions for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns in 2007, Cutler's first as the Broncos' starting quarterback.
Contrast those seasons with Cutler's first three in Chicago where he's yet to have a 1,000-yard receiver. Johnny Knox came the closest with 960 yards receiving in 2010. To be fair, Cutler only played in 10 games last season because of a thumb injury, but at the time he also was on pace for his worst passing numbers since 2007.
To take it further, the last Bears wide receiver to have more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season Marty Booker, who had 1,189 yards back in 2002. Marshall has had five straight 1,000-yard seasons, including last year's 1,214-yard campaign on just 81 receptions and working with three different Miami quarterbacks - Chad Henne, J.P. Losman and Matt Moore.
Marshall also made the Pro Bowl in 2011, his third trip in four seasons. The Bears on the other hand, the have had just one wide receiver named to the Pro Bowl in the last 10 years and that was Booker in 2002. Knox was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2009, but that was a kick returner, not a receiver.
Even if Marshall doesn't earn an invite to the Pro Bowl in his first season in a Bears' uniform, he's sure to make a lasting impression on the Bears' passing attack, which finished 26th in the NFL last season. The sheer presence of Marshall on the field is sure to draw attention from opposing defenses and secondaries and it also allows other receivers like Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett to fill roles in the offense that are more suited to their respective skills.
Mike Martz, the architect of the potent "Greatest Show on Turf" offense of the St. Louis Rams in the early 2000s, may no longer be calling the plays in Chicago, but I'm sure new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will find a way to get Marshall involved early and often in the Bears' offense this coming season.
Besides Marshall, the Bears also added former Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell to their roster on Tuesday. Campbell signed a one-year deal to backup Cutler, who missed the last six games of the 2011 season after breaking his thumb in the game against San Diego. Although Cutler is fully expected to be ready to go at the start of training camp, the addition of Campbell, who has started 70 of the 71 games he has appeared in his six seasons with Washington and Oakland, gives the Bears plenty of insurance at the quarterback position.
Last season the Bears went to Caleb Hannie after Cutler got hurt and eventually turned to Josh McCown after Hannie struggled mightily in his four starts. Hannie and McCown led the team to a 1-5 finish, combining for 1,015 yards passing, five touchdowns and 12 interceptions in those last six games. Campbell is 31-39 in his career as a starter with 14,417 yards passing, 74 touchdowns, 50 interceptions and a 60.8 completion percentage.
Once Campbell gets to Chicago, he will no doubt introduce himself to all his new coaches and teammates, including Marshall. That won't be necessary for Cutler. He and Marshall have already connected off and on the field.
And while the duo's relationship off the field will no doubt be analyzed and scrutinized, it's their chemistry and productivity on the field that matters the most. It worked pretty well the first time around and a repeat performance in Chicago is what everyone, from the front office to the fans, are hoping for and eagerly anticipating, even though the 2012 NFL season is more than five months away.
— by Mark Ross, published on March 14, 2012