SI Staff
Friday December 11th, 2015

In honor of LeSean McCoy facing his former team as the Bills visit the Eagles in Week 14, the NFL staff looks back at this year’s other off-season trades to determine which trade piece they think has been the most successful with his new team this year. And there’s one wide receiver who’s an overwhelming favorite...

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Don Banks: Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets

The only debate here is which Jets deal was better, right? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Because without receiver Brandon Marshall or quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick being obtained for next to nothing on consecutive days in March, the Jets are nowhere near 7–5 and in position to claim the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2010.

Credit to both New York general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles—both first-timers in their roles—for pulling the trigger on the two deals, when both well-traveled players were coming off injury-shortened 2014 seasons. But with their unexpected connection driving the team’s offense, Fitzpatrick-to-Marshall has become one of the NFL’s most surprising success stories of 2015.

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If I had to separate the deals and choose only one in terms of impact, I’d rank Marshall and a seventh-round draft pick to the Jets in exchange for a measly fifth-round selection—which Chicago used to take Penn State safety Adrian Amos—as the heist of the offseason. While Amos has been a very solid pick for the Bears, Marshall has been spectacular for the Jets, with 83 receptions for 1,062 yards (ranking seventh in the NFL) and 10 touchdowns, becoming Fitzpatrick’s go-to guy and giving New York’s offense a proven and consistent chains-mover.

Last week against the Giants, Marshall pulled down 12 receptions for 131 yards and the game-tying touchdown late in regulation, setting up the Jets’ 23–20 overtime win. That game made Marshall, at 31, the first receiver in NFL history to record a 1,000-yard season for four different teams, and with any kind of finish this season, he’s headed for becoming the first player to log 1,200-yard receiving years for four different clubs. Fitzpatrick has been very good for significant stretches of this season, but without Marshall to target, he’d probably still be viewed as the mid-level, journeyman quarterback he has been for most of his career.

Greg Bedard: Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets

The most impactful trade of the off-season has definitely been the Jets getting Marshall from the Bears. He's seventh in the league with 1,062 yards, fifth with 83 catches and tied for third with 10 touchdowns. More importantly, he hasn't been much of an issue with his mouth (thought there’s still plenty of time left). Having an effective Marshall has opened up the Jets’ passing game for Fitzpatrick and made Eric Decker a much better player without all the extra attention. Marshall’s addition has helped take the Jets from an also-ran to a favorite to lock up a wild-card spot.

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Chris Burke: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Jets

He hasn’t been an All-Pro or anything, but Fitzpatrick has played a big part in the Jets’ playoff push. When one considers what an unstable mess New York’s QB spot had been before (Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez, Matt Simms, etc.), being able to lock in Fitzpatrick from the get-go marked critical progress. The veteran has found a rapport with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who have combined for 18 touchdowns and nearly 1,900 yards receiving.

The Jets have to be thinking about keeping Fitzpatrick around for at least another season. Smith has just one year left on his contract, so it’s no guarantee he will stick around, and Bryce Petty could use as much seasoning as they can buy him.

Bette Marston: Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets

I’m struggling to make an argument for anyone but the Jets’ No. 1 wide receiver. After one of his least productive seasons in the NFL in 2014 (61 receptions for 721 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games), Marshall high-tailed it out of Chicago and became one of the crucial pieces of the New York offense.

Marshall immediately clicked with Fitzpatrick and fellow WR Eric Decker—in fact, Decker and Marshall are tied for second in the NFL in red-zone targets with 21. And just last week, Marshall eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards on the season, becoming the first player to hit that mark with four different teams. The Jets (like many other teams in the NFL) are still hanging around in the playoff hunt, and there's no chance the team would be in that position without Marshall.

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Eric Single: Kwon Alexander, LB, Buccaneers

I’m going to make use of two loopholes for the sake of argument. Loophole No. 1: Choosing a pick-for-pick draft-day trade. The Buccaneers moved up four spots in the fourth round of this year’s draft to take Alexander with the 124th pick, sending the Raiders a fourth-round pick Tampa Bay had gotten from the Colts and a seventh-round pick in return. The LSU product has excelled at the center of the Bucs’ front seven, with 93 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles, including a violent strip of Julio Jones in Tampa Bay’s Week 8 upset win in Atlanta.

Loophole No. 2: Ending the window for nominations today, before the bulk of Week 14’s action, with Alexander about to begin a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Bucs’ defense will be short one extremely promising difference-maker as they try to sneak into the NFC playoffs.

Andrew Perloff: Brandon Marshall, WR, Jets

The Jets have always seemed jinxed at receiver, so Marshall's success is both surprising and vital in Gang Green’s push for the playoffs. After hauling in a late game-tying TD in a win over the Giants last Sunday, Marshall became the first Jets wideout to win AFC Player of the Week in 25 years, according to Oh how Rex Ryan could have used a No. 1 receiver like Marshall.

He’s been on so many teams because he appears to be hard to work with, but Marshall hasn’t had any issues in New York and has quickly developed strong chemistry with Fitzpatrick. We knew the Jets would be able to play defense this season, but thanks in large part to Marshall, they are a more balanced team than expected.

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