The 2014 season was supposed to be the year of the Chicago Bears offense. That didn't work out.
With Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and twin totems Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, along with offensive guru Marc Trestman at the wheel, the Bears were poised to light up NFL box scores.
Unfortunately, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
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The expected reaction came, as Trestman and GM Phil Emery were fired shortly after the conclusion of the 5-11 season. That might not be it though.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Bears are shopping Marshall ahead of March 12, the date his base salary of $7.5m becomes guaranteed for the season.
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There are plenty of reasons why the Bears would benefit from trading Marshall, and not many good ones to keep him.
To trade or not to trade
Although wide receivers are closer to quarterbacks than running backs when it comes to age-related decline, and Marshall's 6ft-4in frame should be an extra advantage as he moves into his mid-30s (traditionally the time receivers decline precipitously), his contract is onerous.
The five-time Pro Bowler had a down year last year, not helped by injures that robbed him of three starts.
He earned $15m last season while putting up 721 receiving yards on 61 receptions for eight touchdowns. The Bears can save $7.7m straight up by releasing him, but $5.625m in dead money makes that unpalatable.
A trade makes more sense for Chicago, although they're unlikely to get anything close to the two third rounders they gave the Dolphins for Marshall three years ago.
They may get one fourth or fifth rounder or perhaps a couple of later picks but not much more, mainly because of the contract.
It was one of the last deals done by former-GM Emery, but a new offense, headed by Marshall's former WR coach in Denver, Adam Gase, may look to go in a different direction.
Although the Tribute says any decision will not be down to 'cap ramifications' the Bears could be looking to the draft and licking their lips.
Draft a WR?
There's plenty of talented young receivers to choose from, just like last year, and the Bears may need the cap space to tie down Jeffrey next season.
The gifted, if drop-happy, receiver is coming off his rookie deal after this year so new GM Ryan Pace will need to make a decision pretty soon.
Much depends on the quarterback situation, which is mess right now. It makes little sense paying big-money to a veteran receiver Cutler's ex-coaches are publicly digging him out daily while Jimmy Clausen is nobody's long-term answer to sustainable success.
No less than 10 former-Bears staffers from the Lovie Smith and Trestman eras believe the team 'can't compete for a title with Cutler as quarterback.' Ouch.
They have last year's sixth round pick, David Fales, but the San Diego State prospect didn't dazzle Bears coaches last season. He should get a chance, but it's likely Gase and his staff will be looking ahead.
The Bears already have plenty of cap space for this season, around $27m, so the team has flexibility to execute its vision from the get-go.
Worth the hassle?
While it may be unfair to Marshall, he has a reputation for creating distraction off-the-field. And while he may be worth the trouble when you're getting 1,300 yards and double digit touchdowns, it's definitely not when production trends the other way. See his situations in Denver and Miami for prior evidence.
This may be the Bears looking to get out ahead of this, and with Cutler's future uncertain, it certainly wouldn't be surprising to see the Bears opt for a clean slate.
The team has so many holes on the offensive line and the defense in general, it doesn't make sense to have so much money tied up in players that aren't franchise cornerstones.
With the seventh pick in this year's draft, and the potential to trade Cutler and Marshall for more picks, the Bears need to take the opportunity to hit the reset button.
They have some pieces in place for Gase's offense. Forte is a top 10 back, Martellus Bennett can fill a Julius Thomas type role and Jeffrey has incentive to grow into a Demaryius Thomas style presence in what is a contract year for him.
Kyle Fuller flashed promise in his rookie season, and Tim Jennings has been a successful free agent acquisition. The rest of the secondary is questionable though, and the middle of the defensive line needs work.
As mentioned, they have the space to go after John Fox favourites likeTerrance Knighton and Rahim Moore in free agency.
They certainly need to be very active, as the roster can be upgraded pretty much across the board.
There's plenty of work to do in Chicago, but yesterday's news suggests they're heading in the right direction.
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