Bears score in Brandon Marshall deal, but what's it mean for Peyton Manning?
Brandon Marshall's talent is undeniable, but he brings baggage with him to Chicago. (Getty Images)
Just as NFL free agency was set to begin Thursday, the Bears and Dolphins completed a major deal, with Miami sending Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago in exchange for two third-round picks.
Let's cut right to the chase: For Chicago, this is a major score. The Bears badly needed a No. 1 wide receiver for Jay Cutler to throw to -- hence their reported interested in Vincent Jackson and others -- and Marshall certainly qualifies. Despite an unstable QB situation in Miami last season, Marshall still made 81 catches for 1,214 yards.
Marshall will cost the Bears upwards of $11 million in 2012 and has a base salary of $9.1 million in 2013. Chicago will gladly take on that cost to upgrade its offense, especially when you consider that Jackson, as an unrestricted free agent, could pull in $2-$3 million above that price tag.
But the mystery in all this is why the Dolphins would make the deal. Sure, it clears a bunch of money off the team's book, but it leaves Miami without a top receiver of its own, something that will be tough to find with either of those mid-round picks coming back from Chicago.
So, it's time to figure out how Peyton Manning factors into all of this.
We know two things about Marshall: He is supremely talented, and he can be a pain in the neck to deal with. Given that Manning reportedly met with the Dolphins on Monday, is it possible Tuesday's trade is not a coincidence?
Let's just suppose for a second that Manning told Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman that he was seriously considering Miami ... but had no desire to deal with Marshall's antics. If the Dolphins brass thought that might be a tipping point in convincing Manning to come to Miami, it would behoove them to pull the trigger on a deal like this.
Unloading Marshall also frees up more money for Miami to pursue, say, Reggie Wayne to partner with Manning, in the event this moves forward.
Of course, there's also the possibility that the Dolphins simply tired of dealing with Marshall and saw no need to keep fighting those battles as they tried to rebuild. Clearing millions in cap room and adding a couple of draft picks might have been seen as fair trade-off for dumping Marshall out of town. The relatively low return on Marshall indicates either that Miami was anxious to get rid of him or that there was little interest outside of Chicago.
But regardless of Miami's reasoning, the Bears have to be thrilled right now. Chicago had plenty of money to spend in 2012 -- it was $23.5 million under the cap as of Tuesday morning, according to NFL.com.
Plus, this reunites Cutler with Marshall, four years after the two last played together in Denver. With Cutler as the Broncos' starter, Marshall made 206 combined catches during the 2008 and '09 seasons, kicking off the start of an ongoing stretch of years topping 1,000 yards receiving.
Those aforementioned headaches that Marshall tends to cause on and off the field will represent a risk for the Bears, but assuming Marshall doesn't implode and puts up his usual numbers, Chicago will take it.
The Bears finished last season looking up at the Lions and Packers in the NFC North. This could put them back into title contention in 2012. Could this all result in Manning heading to Miami? Maybe. But whether or not it does, it's clear that the Dolphins were ready to unload Marshall ... and the Bears were more than willing to help.