There's a strong possibility he won't be coming back.
The Pro Bowl wideout, upset about his contract and the Broncos' treatment of a hip injury that required surgery in late March, seems to be following the Jay Cutler(notes) Highway out of town. He also appears to be taking a page from the departed franchise quarterback's playbook: Disregard the authority of new coach Josh McDaniels, stay away from the facility and wait for owner Pat Bowlen to sign off on a trade. (Denver's KOA radio reported Monday that Marshall asked to be dealt during a private meeting with Bowlen on Friday.)
Like Cutler, Marshall is likely to get his wish – assuming there are legitimate offers for a fourth-year receiver who has averaged 103 catches and 1,295 yards over the past two seasons.
Unlike Cutler, who chafed when the 31-year-old McDaniels unsuccessfully tried to trade for Matt Cassel(notes) and never made a sincere effort to address his quarterback's feelings of alienation, Marshall isn't getting a whole lot of sympathy from me.
This is not to say that Marshall isn't underpaid relative to his peers – he absolutely is. As a former fourth-round draft pick, he made just $1.5 million in combined salary and signing bonus over his first three seasons; after an escalation based on his selection to last February's Pro Bowl, he's due to make $2.198 million in '09, the final year of his contract. He's also undoubtedly upset that, barring an extension of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players association in the next 12 months, the rules surrounding an uncapped year in 2010 would prevent him from cashing in on unrestricted free agency following this season.
It's also likely Marshall is frustrated over the team's treatment of Cutler and its decision to trade the prolific passer for the weaker-armed Kyle Orton(notes), which could negatively impact his numbers.
I feel his pain, but I also think he's clueless. If I were running the Broncos, would I give a lucrative extension to a guy coming off hip surgery who reportedly has been arrested or questioned by police 13 times (seven times for alleged domestic abuse) since 2004?
If you think the answer is yes, you must be a mile high.
We could get into a long discussion about the horrors of domestic violence and how culpable Marshall may or may not be in these specific cases. I heard what his ex-girlfriend, Rasheedah Watley, had to say on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," and I saw Marshall give his side of the story. I obviously can't tell you what the absolute truth is, but I do know this:
• Marshall's claim that he never laid a hand on Watley wasn't especially supported by the fact that on March 1 police were called to intervene in a disturbance between him and his current fiancée, Michi Leshase Nogami-Campbell. According to a police report, Marshall and Nogami-Campbell began kicking and punching one another outside his Atlanta condominium in the presence of officers. Each was arrested, but charges were dropped when Marshall and Nogami-Campbell refused to testify against one another.
• From a competitive standpoint, having Marshall on your team is a risk, because he might not be available when you need him. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Marshall for the first three games of the '08 season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy (it was later reduced to a single game on appeal), and the player's next conviction – or even arrest – could lead to a much longer absence. In August, Marshall is scheduled to stand trial in Atlanta for two counts of misdemeanor domestic battery that stem from a March 2008 incident involving Watley, and a conviction would likely trigger another suspension by the league.
• Marshall isn't the most reliable teammate. Back in March '08, Marshall suffered a severe gash to his right forearm after what he said was a playful wrestling incident with his brother that ended with the receiver's arm smashing through a television set. He initially claimed he had suffered the injury after slipping on a McDonald's wrapper, essentially lying to his employer. A little more than a week later Cutler, citing Marshall's pending DUI charge (it was later dropped as part of a plea agreement), domestic violence issues and overall penchant for trouble – the wideout also reportedly helped instigate a confrontation in a club that preceded the shooting death of teammate Darrent Williams(notes) on Jan. 1, 2007 – said, "Yeah, he's not my favorite person right now. I mean, I support him, but it's always something with him right now. … He knows he's running out of chances." And that was one of Marshall's friends talking.
The bottom line is that, if he wants a deal averaging $9 million a year anytime soon, Marshall is going to have to hope there's another employer out there who's willing to overlook his off-the-field issues and gamble. Further, that employer will likely have to part with at least a first-round draft pick to pry him for the Broncos.
My suspicion is that it will happen, and probably soon. And though I can see why such a move might infuriate Broncos fans, who would then have endured an offseason in which the team's two best players were shipped out, at this point it's probably the right call.
If McDaniels had made things right with Cutler, it would be a different story. The Broncos, with Marshall and second-year wideout Eddie Royal(notes) and second-year left tackle Ryan Clady(notes), would still be looking at a potentially elite passing attack for years to come, and there'd be a lot of value in keeping it intact.
Realistically, however, Bowlen – whether he realized it or not – set the dominos in motion after the '08 season when he fired longtime coach and de facto front-office chief Mike Shanahan and brought in McDaniels. Bowlen was so impressed with the ex-Patriots offensive coordinator that he gave McDaniels the power to bring in a general manager (similarly untested Falcons personnel man Brian Xanders) and, eventually, sided with him over Cutler and dealt the disgruntled quarterback to the Bears.
Given that the Broncos have already done the unthinkable – and, for better or worse, put their organizational faith in McDaniels – appeasing Marshall and making a long-term commitment makes no sense. The upheaval has already occurred with Cutler's departure; the franchise might as well get what it can for Marshall and try to regroup for the future.
And, of course, they'll continue to celebrate in Kansas City, Oakland and, especially, San Diego.
If the Chargers wanted karmic restitution for the Ed Hochuli debacle, man, did they get a bountiful payback. When San Diego knocked Denver out of the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, it turned out that was only the beginning of the Broncos' nightmare.
When you think about the improbable chain of events that led to all of this turmoil, you realize what a crazy business the 21st century NFL has become. If the Chargers don't recover an onside kick in Kansas City with 1:19 remaining in their Dec. 14 game – after the Chiefs' top receiver, Dwayne Bowe(notes), had the ball in his hands – Denver wins the AFC West.
In that scenario Shanahan and Cutler are almost certainly still with the team, and Marshall's new deal is being worked out behind the scenes.
Instead, we have packed boxes, trade talks and another looming trip down the Jay Cutler Highway.
This time, the player deserves the bulk of the blame.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
No, you're the only one. I'm assuming that you meant it as a compliment – that I run like this girl.
You kill me. You absolutely kill me. Again with the (Philip) Rivers' dropping the f-bomb. But just when I'm about to boycott your column, you drop the Roger Craig picture comment and I'm falling off my chair laughing.
Three NFL players engage in a discussion about Rivers' penchant for trash-talking, and I quote one of them relating a personal experience, and I'm the one killing you? I'm sure that, as a consistent reader of the column, you know I'm a big Rivers fan, though I'm not sure I'd want to get into a heated debate on the subject with Keith Bulluck(notes). And you'll be pleased to know that Rivers, through Chargers assistant director of public relations Scott Yoffe, insists he never swore at Bulluck (though he confirms the rest of the story). As for the Roger Craig comment, read on …
"Steve, your son is slow." Ha ha classic! I feel your pain though. That sounds like you had a blast! I'm also sure you won't do it again for another 20 years! :) (still better than what I could do!)
Here's some backstory on the framed photo/Father's Day gift: I tried to get Jerry Rice(notes) to sign it, too, but when I joked that the sizeable gap between us must have been a product of trick photography, he got angry and told me to get the hell away from his locker. Hey, no one ever accused the guy of not being psychotically competitive. No matter, we got over it the next day (and eventually did a book together and within a couple of years Craig had ceded his "King of the Hill" title to the driven receiver who went on to have one of the greatest careers in football history.
Loved the article on Jeff Fisher and the Titans. I think next year will be a great year for the Titans but even if it isn't I still think that they are the best team in the NFL and we are definitely better off without (Albert) Haynesworth.
I'm not sure if I buy the "better without Haynesworth" logic, but I agree that they'll be a very good team in '09.
As Joe (Walsh) would say about your LeBron (James) slam, "Can't Argue with a Sick Mind." That was a dunk-plus on the fallen King. Nice cross-over move to the NBA.
Thanks. Consider it an encore performance after last year's Phil Jackson tribute.
Yet another great, thought-provoking article from Mr. Silver. Well done! In one way I can understand the coaching staff and the front office trying to down play the injuries. Since, depending on the severity of the injury, it could give their opponent an advantage. Yet I don't understand why they would purposefully put a player, that they have invested millions of dollars into, in a situation that could not only aggravate the injury, but possibly end their career. I'm surprised you didn't bring up that big brouhaha last year about (Kellen) Winslow's staph infection. To me that is a prime example of the front office trying to dust things under the rug.
Good call on Winslow's staph infection – that was a classic case of a player feeling he needed to get the word out about the true nature of his ailment in order to protect his reputation.
I usually don't respond to columns like this but I feel obligated to on this one. Really exceptional work and it opened my eyes to something it seems like most everyone but the players themselves know and would care about. Thanks for the piece and I'm sure if this was a nasty email you would rag on me for ending a sentence with a preposition.
Ha, that might have been something upon which I'd have remarked.
Mike, Viewing the 2008 NFL injury reports, I count 29 times where Antonio Cromartie(notes) was listed with a hip injury, starting with Week 2 and continuing in every month throughout the 2008 season. Everybody knew that his hip was hurt, including fans. The hip injury had nothing to do with Cro's embarrassing lack of effort in tackling, much like his mentor Deion Sanders attempting to avoid the menial task at all costs during the course of his career, culminating with his game-changing inaction as Hines Ward(notes) caught the ball right next to him at the 15 yard-line, followed by a carry from a dead stop to the 2-yard line with less than a minute left in the first half. Cromartie had more than a broken hip in 2008; he also had a broken cranium, starting with his arrogant – and ridiculous – 15 interceptions prediction before the start of the season. If he's more focused on blaming his hip for his very poor 2008 performance rather than focusing on changing his mental approach to the game (as it appears by his whining to the media several times after the close of the 2008 season), then I expect to see little improvement in 2009. Luis Castillo(notes) was hampered by a back injury for the entire 2008 season (no secret either) and has been dogged by Chargers fans for his poor performance – and not a peep from him. That's the way you handle it as a pro, much like one of your personal favorites would have handled it: Ronnie Lott. I enjoy your stuff and hopefully I'll get to meet you at a Cal football tailgate one of these days when I tag along with my younger brother Mike. Cheers!
Los Alamitos, Calif.
It's true that Cromartie may have been listed on some (though not all) injury reports during the season, but the severity of his injury – a fractured hip – was never revealed. I agree that, beginning with the 15-interception prediction, he came off a bit overeager to wallow in his hype heading into last season. However, it's tough to say how much of a role that played in his diminished performance given his physical issue. As he said, it's kind of tough to get in and out of breaks when you've got a broken hip. Certainly, how he plays this year will tell us a lot. As for the Cal tailgates, my crew of age-inappropriate college friends is particularly receptive to those who approach us with complimentary refreshments.
Silver, I've been reading your columns on Yahoo! for a couple years now … this is the first time I've felt suitably frustrated and self-indulgent enough to say anything. I've always appreciated how you protect and maintain the image of NFL players to your readers; you explain to us how marginalized they have become in this "new" era of overwhelming economic and personnel control by NFL ownership/management. We, as irrational, ignorant and demanding fans, are part of the problem. Every time we blame an Antonio Cromartie or whomever for "blowing the [expletive] game" (and then buying their cool jersey, of course), we are not only marginalizing the incredible talent, work, and sacrifice it takes to both attain and maintain a job in the NFL, we are allotting management more economic control by way of arbitrational leverage over these men. Every time we accept what personnel, management and media say at face value, we are doing these men a disservice. It's a disturbing Marxist case-study on the destructive, exploitive ways of unchecked capital power. Take out "players" and "ownership" and insert "proletariat" and "bourgeoisie," and … I need say no more. It disgusts me and I will never get over it. If I hadn't been raised in Pittsburgh and had the bright spot of a model franchise to help wipe some of the league-filth off me I'd be done with football. Period! Michael, really what this all boils down to is my thanks for a small, select group of journalists in the sporting community that refuse to allow NFL corruption and power to distort the truth as they see it. Anyone can write a puff-piece that will be edited multiple times by multiple sources. It takes a lot of balls to continually slap the big dog in the face. And then make fun of him to your buddies. Thanks. You've got a fan for life.
I'm not sure I'm with you on the whole Marxist-analogy thing – it's a little heavy for me, and complicated by the fact that, as I've noted before, the NFL is the only form of institutionalized communism in mainstream American society – but I hear you on the dog-slapping. Then again, given the impending return of a certain left-handed quarterback, I should probably stay away from that analogy as well.
I was unaware of your political leanings til your comment to the person from Alaska. Just in case you don't actually know the truth, I'll enlighten you: Tina Fey made the comment about being able to see Russia from her porch while portraying Palin. Palin did say one could see Russia from Alaska. Quote: "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." And that's true. I'm no fanboy of Palin, but the distortions of her character and words are ridiculous. I know you don't care, but my readership of your asinine views has ended. You've somehow managed to land a sports column in the same bin as MSNBC. Congratulations, and all the best.
Damn, another sensitive right-winger falls by the wayside. I was aware that I was referencing Fey's spot-on spoof of the governor, who made her share of ridiculous comments on the campaign trail. While Mrs. Palin did not say she could see Russia from her house, she did say in response to Katie Couric's question about why Alaska's proximity to that country gives her foreign-policy expertise: "As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where – where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border." Besides, I'm pretty sure she can stick up for herself. She's a pit-bull hockey mom with lipstick, remember?
Michael, Cal alum (Class of 97') here wondering if you are on Twitter yet? Seems like all of your counterparts (King, Mortensen, Florio, Farmer, etc.) are using the medium quite extensively and reading you in 160 character bits would be fun. … Always enjoy the columns and insight. Go Bears!
I'm glad you asked, because I have a very exciting announcement coming in Friday's "The Gameface" column about a new microblogging venture I'm involved with that will blow the lid off this cyber-universe. If you're motivated, you'll probably be able to find my initial musings on Wednesday – and I will keep 'em coming.
- Josh McDaniels