The Bears traded for Brandon Marshall in March of 2012. At the time the move was applauded because it finally brought Jay Cutler the No. 1 receiver and weapon he long needed. There was also trepidation among fans who worried that Marshall's past off-field problems could rear their ugly heads, that he would be the headache he was in his past NFL stops.
Just one day after the trade was announced, it came to light that Marshall had been involved in a fight outside a nightclub just days before the trade. The Bears said they had been aware of the incident at the time of the trade, but the whole thing made Bears fans wary of what they were getting in Marshall.
Two years and two months later, though, is there anyone who wouldn't do the trade over again?
Not only for the on field production, which has been amazing, to the tune of 218 catches for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns in two seasons. He's 19th all time on the Bears' receiving list and with another year of his averages (109/1,401/11) he would be solidly in the top seven in each receiving category. He's likely 3-4 healthy seasons from owning every receiving record in the Bears' book.
Off the field he's been a model citizen. Not since that incident shortly before he became a Bear has Marshall been in trouble. He's owned up to his mistakes, and has become a businessman, a spokesperson and a leader.
His mentoring of younger players Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson is documented and it contributed to Jeffery's breakout year in 2013; it's also a reason why expectations are so high for Wilson.
Marshall has exceeded all of the expectations fans had for him. I know that I was wrong about him, for sure. I thought that the Bears would get the great production from Marshall, but I thought he would be gone at the end of his existing contract, or sooner. I thought his antics would surely get him out of Chicago before his career ended. I didn't think I would see him sign a $30 million extension and at the same time I would say "That's some of the safest money the Bears have spent!"
It's a testament to Marshall and all the progress he's made. He's owned up to his mistakes, he's talked about them openly. I've never heard him shy away from questions about his past or decline to answer them.
As an example watch this clip of Marshall thanking the organization and really listen to his thanks. I've rarely heard an athlete sound so sincere and I certainly don't remember one thanking everyone down to the groundskeepers, by name, in his contract extension presser.
Especially watch the part beginning around 5:20 when he thanks coach Marc Trestman. He isn't even looking at his sheet anymore, he's speaking from his heart and it's just how he honestly feels as he gets emotional talking about what Trestman means to him. It's incredible. Players loved Lovie Smith, but Trestman is already just as loved.
Marshall said that the trade was "life-saving and career-saving" and there is little doubt about that. Two years ago he was seen, as many NFL players are, talented but troubled. It took Marshall getting to the right environment, with the right coaches and players around him, but it also took Marshall deciding he needed to make changes to his life.
This quote from the end of his thank-yous really stuck with me, showing how far he's come from his Denver diva days.
"It's not really about me, it's about the people around me. Anybody that's in a successful position or has been successful, it's about the team. It's about having the right people on the bus and the right people in the right seats and I think I figured it out and I'm thankful for them."
It's hard to even imagine him throwing a fit like that one he did in Denver. In his thank-yous he mentioned the Denver organization as a "first class" team but would only say "Miami has a lot of history." He's said in the past that Miami wasn't a good environment for him and he clashed with Josh McDaniels.
It takes different things in order for different people to "get it." Marshall certainly has it now, from ESPN Chicago:
Marshall and the Bears started discussing the new contract in March, but the receiver admitted he wanted a new deal before the 2013 season. At the time, general manager Phil Emery told Marshall there was a game plan and that he was a part of it but the club couldn't consummate the deal immediately.
"I wanted a contract last year, and he told me, 'Brandon, we couldn't do it,'" Marshall said.
Despite that news, Marshall kept quiet and played, producing 100 receptions to become the first player in franchise history to produce back-to-back 100-catch seasons. Over the course of that season, Alshon Jeffery emerged to lead the team in receiving yards (1,421). Marshall said the 2013 season marked the first time in his career "that I wasn't selfish."
This was a guy who had wanted a new deal and wanted out of a city, and would do nothing in practice until he got his way, and now he "kept quiet and produced."
Earlier this week Marshall said that he wanted to break Cris Carter's receiving records, something ESPN Chicago points out is very do-able. Marshall picking Carter as a mark seems appropriate too because Marshall's story as a player and a person somewhat reflects that of Carter: a talented player wears out his welcome with a team and is traded (in Marshall's case twice), but the light finally clicks and he dedicates himself to being a better person and a better player, and rewrites the record books.
I hope Marshall keeps to his word and stays on the path he's been making. His is an amazing story and he's going to be remembered as a Bear. For all the right reasons.