Receiver, Broncos in a whirl of hurt
The feud between Brandon Marshall and his team is headed for a nasty end
You can see that potential in the way he chuckles about his recent demotion to the Broncos' scout team. You can hear it when he talks about how little he trusts the franchise or knows the team's new offense. Nearly everything Marshall does these days sends one obvious message: He's only just begun to torment a franchise that needs to quickly figure out how to deal with this dilemma.
Marshall hasn't hidden his desires since midway through this offseason. He wants the Broncos to trade him, especially since they haven't shown any real urgency in giving him an extension on a contract that expires after this season. Marshall is a valuable talent; he has 206 receptions over the past two seasons, and 2008 marked his first trip to the Pro Bowl. It's just that he's a player who already has had enough off-the-field incidents to make any team wary about signing him to a long-term deal.
Those are the two central issues in trading Marshall, and he's done nothing to indicate he's going to handle this quietly.
"I've done some great things on the field," said Marshall, who is scheduled to make $2.2 million this season. "I'm not saying I'm a finished product, but I definitely think I can play on anybody's team and contribute in a major way. That's where we stand, and I think people sometimes forget that this is how we make our living. We are blessed to be playing this game, but this is also a business. And after everything that happened last year and this offseason, you want to have some stability."
When Marshall talks about what has happened in the Broncos' recent past, he's referring primarily to two huge moves: (1) the decision by Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to fire longtime coach Mike Shanahan; and (2) the trade that sent Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears after Cutler and new coach Josh McDaniels engaged in a highly publicized feud. The Shanahan dismissal surely made Marshall understand that anyone can be dismissed in the NFL, even a man who spent a total of 21 years with the Broncos (14 as head coach) and led that franchise to two Super Bowl victories. The Cutler situation was a different story. It merely gave Marshall plenty of leverage.
Although Marshall downplays the effect of the Cutler trade on his current issues, there's no disputing that Marshall learned a few tricks from observing that mess. Just as Cutler complained about a lack of communication and trust with the Broncos -- stemming from McDaniels' interest in acquiring former New England Patriots and current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel earlier this offseason -- Marshall has aired similar grievances. In fact, Marshall complained after a preseason game that a team public relations official had been telling his teammates not to say they were happy about his recent acquittal on misdemeanor battery charges (the Broncos subsequently apologized for that incident).
Marshall also has been candid about how little he knows about his new coach. When asked how much he and McDaniels have talked privately about these problems, Marshall shrugged.
"We don't really have a relationship right now, probably because I haven't been here," said Marshall, who was sidelined during most of the offseason while recovering from hip surgery, and missed many training camp practices because of a hamstring injury and his trial.
"It's a tough thing. We do try to keep it professional, and sometimes that's not a bad thing."
McDaniels says there are no personal issues with Marshall -- "I feel really good about him," McDaniels said -- but the new coach also is trying his best to be diplomatic when addressing this matter.
"We're not oblivious to what has happened," McDaniels said. "Again, Brandon Marshall is a very good football player who can help us win games, and we're trying to coach him as best as we can. We're just working through some things."
What McDaniels clearly can't say is that the Broncos absolutely must avoid allowing Cutler and Marshall to leave town within months of each other. Cutler's situation at least can be explained away as a poorly handled misunderstanding that snowballed into a full-blown clash of egos. Marshall's deal is far less complicated. It basically comes down to the Broncos' deciding whether they can live with a large investment in a player who can't seem to avoid trouble.
Even Marshall acknowledges that his reputation -- he's had 13 run-ins with the law in three seasons -- needs a cleansing.
"With all the off-the-field problems and everything being so public, I have put myself in a tough position," Marshall said.
"The NFL and this organization have been with me on these things since day one. They know all the things that I've experienced. But what's that saying -- that perception eventually becomes reality? That's what has happened to me. Perception has become reality."
As much as Marshall wants to believe that, the fact is that he's not helping the public perception around him these days. McDaniels placed Marshall on the scout team last week, and it should be noted that the demotion occurred right after Marshall's agent, Kennard McGuire, came to town to reiterate Marshall's trade demands.
The team also left Marshall at home for Saturday's preseason game at the Seattle Seahawks. It's common for injured players to stay behind on such trips, but Marshall was healthy enough to compete.
The unanswered question in this case is whether McDaniels was sending a strong message to his star player. We probably will never know for sure, but we have to assume McDaniels wanted Marshall to start shaping up in a hurry. Regardless of what Marshall is demanding from the organization, the Broncos need him to contribute as soon as the season begins. They realize he's the kind of player who can make an immediate impact on their fortunes.
The problem is that Marshall understands that quite well himself, which is why he's focused on getting his way. As he said, "There has been a soap opera going on around here, but coach McDaniels always tells us that change happens every day in the NFL. We're no different here, and you just have to deal with it when it comes."
It should be noted that Marshall chuckled some more after remembering his coach's advice. It suggested that Marshall fully expects to have the last laugh when this mess finally resolves itself.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.