The undercurrent of discontent between Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall and first-year coach Josh McDaniels, which flared up before the season and then seemed to subside, never really faded. Their relationship remained frayed, according to sources, which now seemingly leaves Marshall's future with the team in doubt.
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen told NFL.com's Steve Wyche in October that if Marshall continued to produce, he would be rewarded with a new contract. However, given this past week's events -- with McDaniels deciding to deactivate Marshall for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs and clashing with the receiver over the severity of his hamstring injury -- sources with knowledge of the situation believe the sides might not be able to coexist in the future. Marshall has been seeking a trade out of Denver since well before the season began, and McDaniels suspended him during the preseason for his actions in a practice session.
Marshall pulled up during practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury and told the team that he didn't believe he would be able to play in the regular-season finale. He didn't practice Thursday, and an MRI showed no structural damage in the hamstring. However, Marshall has maintained that he cannot run or accelerate properly.
All week, McDaniels preached accountability to his team, with the Broncos slumping after a 6-0 start and falling to the periphery of the AFC playoff picture. There is a sense within the organization that other Broncos are playing through more serious injuries, and thus on Friday, McDaniels made the decision to bench Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler. The timing of Marshall's injury -- one day after he secured a Pro Bowl spot and three days after he cemented another 100-catch season while seeking a new contract -- rubbed some people in the organization the wrong way. The Broncos also believe Marshall was exaggerating the extent of his injuries during the preseason as well, and the trust issues between the sides linger.
Marshall and McDaniels are both very "emotional," a team source noted, and while they have publicly shared hugs and expressed joy on the sideline, not everyone in the organization is convinced that the receiver has changed his ways after his past outbursts. Of course, there were times when it seemed clear to some within the organization that Marshall and McDaniels wouldn't be able to coexist, and then things took a turn for the better, however temporary.
Marshall handled his benching with aplomb, but the Broncos have a decision to make. Barring a new collective bargaining agreement, Marshall will be a restricted free agent, and Denver likely would place a high tender on him, meaning the team would receive a first-and a third-round draft pick as compensation if he signed somewhere else. Receiving that compensation, given Marshall's occasional attitude issues and off-the-field woes, might prove difficult. There was lukewarm interest in him last offseason.
Still, if the situation between coach and player becomes untenable, the Broncos already have shown a willingness to trade a young talented star, dealing quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears during the offseason. Trading Marshall would leave Denver without another elite playmker, however, and thrust even more pressure on McDaniels, who has been under scrutiny since shortly after being hired.