Every team knows that the passing game is critical to achieving wins. But not every team has a true No. 1 wide receiver. In fact, there may be no more than a dozen of these rare athletes throughout the league. A true No. 1 wideout is a guy who commands some form of double coverage -- a corner rolled up on him with a safety behind, or a linebacker walked out with a corner on top. A true No. 1 gives the QB much easier reads of the coverage. He not only provides the offense big-play ability, he also helps open up the running game because the defense fears the big play down the field.
Unfortunately, many of the No. 1 receivers in recent seasons have been tagged as "divas" because they seem to want all the attention, complain about not getting the ball enough, and usually get frustrated with the coaching and the QB. As one GM said, "The headaches can outweigh the production at times and you have to be very careful bringing in one of those guys."
Terrell Owens has bounced around the league and is now on his fourth team, Randy Moss is on his third team and Chad Ochocinco is constantly looking for attention. So often, the desire to get out of a contract and get to another team for personal reasons becomes the main story. There are so many factors to think about when considering a true No. 1 receiver, which leads me to Brandon Marshall of the Broncos.
All is quiet right now because he is not interested in paying the $15,888 per day fine for holding out of camp while under contract. He also doesn't want to surrender a significant portion of his signing bonus for holding out. Sooner or later, though, he is going to be the topic of trade talks in Denver. The new head coach is already in the process of getting Marshall to understand who the boss is and how things are going to work. Marshall had to report to camp with the rookies, four days earlier than the rest of the veterans. That should not sit well with the young man.
The trades of Joey Galloway, Keyshawn Johnson, Randy Moss, Roy Williams, Eric Moulds, Javon Walker and Deion Branch over the years suggest that it is only a matter of time for Marshall. The results of those trades also suggest the clubs interested in Marshall need to move cautiously, if in fact Marshall pushes the Broncos in the coming weeks.
Clubs looking for a top-flight receiver have many things to consider before pulling the trigger on a trade that concerns Marshall. It's not enough to say he's young, big and has 210 receptions for 2,655 yards in 32 games as a starter. Those numbers are great, but there's also the reality that he only has 13 touchdowns in those games. I took a look at what some of the other players he's compared to have done in their best back-to-back seasons in their career. Owens' best two-year run did not include back-to-back seasons with more than 100 receptions like Marshall, but he did find the end zone 29 times in two straight seasons. In 2002-03, Randy Moss grabbed 217 balls for 2,979 yards and 24 touchdowns and the Vikings still lost the desire to keep him around. He wasn't the same player in a Raiders uniform, but has regained his elite status as a Patriot.
If guys like Marshall don't end up on a team with a great quarterback, are problems right around the corner? Joey Galloway had a contract issue back in his Seattle days and only managed 137 catches in his best two-year run. But his 22 touchdowns and 15 yards-per-catch average warranted heavy compensation from the Dallas Cowboys. Marshall's career average is just 12.8 yards per catch and he has only caught three touchdowns in his last 12 games. An in-depth film study of those games might bring a club to the conclusion that he's just below the super elite players. Or do they look at his rare size and age to predict 10 more seasons with more than 100 receptions per year? He's really good, but is he worth more than a first-round pick with his off-the-field issues?
Another historical case was Keyshawn Johnson, who was traded from the Jets to the Bucs after a two-season total of 172 receptions, 18 touchdowns and a 13.4 average. He helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl, but was soon gone after the big win. Galloway, Walker, Owens and Moss didn't last long with their second teams. The size of the contract a guy like Marshall is looking for, and the probability he plays out the big contract, definitely has to be taken into consideration when you look at the past.
Drama in Denver
The kind of money players expect today makes it easier to walk away from a guy that is a problem, especially with all the guaranteed money in deals. Is next year's first- and third-round picks, plus a $100-million deal with $40 million guaranteed, the kind of situation any smart owner or GM wants to get involved in if they went down the Brandon Marshall road?
Say what you want about how the Bengals do business, but they turn a deaf ear to the antics of Chad Ochocinco and just go out on the field to play. Maybe the best thing the Broncos can do is just line up Marshall and make him earn the contract he signed, since they can't replace his talent at this late date. In contrast, the Lions could afford to trade Roy Williams to the Cowboys, because they have Calvin Johnson on the roster.
The Cowboys set the bar pretty high in the compensation area and that will play a factor in what the Broncos believe Marshall is worth on the market. Roy Williams has a solid citizen background and is a safe bet to not be a problem in a Cowboys uniform. Last year, Williams told me he wanted to "go home" to Texas to play out his career. He may never put up Marshall's numbers, but he will not be far off. In the balance of things, he may be a better deal.
Marshall could make any team better with his football talent, but his salary, inability to make good decisions off the field, and the history of trading for wide receivers, at least brings the tag "buyer beware."