Commentary

Marshall and Cutler together again

Updated: March 13, 2012, 8:10 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Let me be the hundredth writer you've read today to cleverly quote the great (meh) Peaches & Herb: "Reunited and it feels so good ... ." Brandon Marshall is heading to the Chicago Bears, where he'll once again catch passes from Jay Cutler.

Even the most pessimistic Bears fan would have to agree this is an exciting trade. Is Marshall the living, breathing epitome of a wide receiver diva? Of course. Is he liable to do at least one incredibly flummoxing thing per season, one that might even cause him to miss playing time? Absolutely. But the talent level in the Chicago receiving corps just went up by several orders of magnitude. Marshall has never been a burner, but at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he's a menace in the open field. Even having suffered through two years of offensive mediocrity with the Miami Dolphins, Marshall has never failed to log a 1,000-yard season during his six pro seasons as a starter. And in his two years with Cutler in Denver, Marshall grabbed 102 and 104 passes. Suffice it to say, Midway Jay will lay it in there and let "The Beast" make defensive backs tremble. Those holding out hope for fantasy value in players such as Earl Bennett and the rehabbing Johnny Knox (broken back) should plan on a long wait.

[+] EnlargeMarshall
Geoff Burke/US PresswireIn their last season together, in Denver in 2008, Cutler targeted Marshall 179 times, the most times a QB has targeted a player in a single season in the past four years.

Whether the Cutler/Marshall combo can rediscover the full flower of its Denver glory probably comes down to (A) Lovie Smith's philosophical stubbornness and (B) the Bears' offensive line. Smith's continued insistence that Devin Hester is a No. 1 NFL wide receiver notwithstanding, the coach has never had a receiving weapon this dangerous during his time in Chicago. And as such, it's been easy to justify a play-calling mix that could charitably be described as "conservative." In 2011, the Bears had the seventh run-heaviest run/pass mix in the NFL, a trend that's continued for years despite the big-ticket acquisition of Cutler in '09. And as for the O-line, the Bears' ridding themselves of horrendous pass-blocking Frank Omiyale is a start, and they seriously need to get '11 first-rounder Gabe Carimi healthy. But J'Marcus Webb is reportedly going to be the left tackle, which is unbelievably frightening for Cutler's health. I'm not ready to go all-in on this pass blocking, and Cutler might once again find himself on his back quite a bit in '12. Still, if Lovie and new offensive coordinator Mike Tice loosen the aerial leash a little, expect some overall improvement from Cutler and some fine numbers from Marshall.

Where should they rank for fantasy purposes? Cutler can't crack the top 10 fantasy QBs, not with his continued O-line questions. But he belongs in the mix with, for example, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, in the next echelon. As for Marshall, I already had a good deal of faith in him when he was with the Dolphins, ranking him 13th at the WR position this March. His behavioral issues make it difficult for me to go any higher than that, but I do think this trade should take away some of the week-to-week variability concerns that came when he was catching passes from Chad Pennington and Chad Henne.

And as for the Dolphins? Considering that at the moment they've got only Matt Moore and Pat Devlin on their roster at quarterback, and their wide receiver list features Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Clyde Gates, Miami isn't done. You can take it to the bank that the Dolphins will have another quarterback and another receiver on that roster soon.

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