As professional athletes get older and inevitably lose their physical ability to perform at a high level, especially in a sport such as Pro Football; their age is often a determining factor as to how long their playing careers will actually last.
By most standards, the peak of a wide receiver’s career is from 25 to 29 years old; with the estimated "decline" beginning at 30 years old, with the proverbial "wheels falling off" by age 33.
Based on that knowledge, a "false narrative" was floated throughout Social Media yesterday among some Saints fans that the team was getting a "washed up" player; after they announced the official signing of 13th year NFL veteran and 34-year old WR Brandon Marshall. But make no mistake: the former University of Central Florida star and 6-time former Pro Bowl selection still has some "gas left in the tank".
Marshall, who turns 35 in March, was signed by the Saints yesterday as an essential replacement for former Dallas Cowboys All-Pro WR Dez Bryant, whom the team had signed last week but lost him after only his 2nd practice, to a torn Achilles tendon injury.
But although Bryant was 4 years younger and therefore theoretically better suited for a role in the Saints offense, the reality is that the 30-year-old Bryant spent an entire year out of the NFL before coming to NOLA.
Marshall spent the first eight weeks of this current 2018 season and all of this past Summer at Training Camp with the Seattle Seahawks before he was released at the end of October.
Translation: Marshall — despite being 4 years older than Bryant — was in "football shape", and Bryant was NOT.
Which of course means that Marshall could come in and contribute immediately, perhaps as early as this upcoming Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles; but only if the coaching staff feels that he can get learn the offensive playbook in time.
But as noted by ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett: it's harder to get excited that the 6-foot-5, 232 pound Marshall could experience some sort of major breakthrough or career resurgence in New Orleans, since his production has tailed off so drastically over the past three seasons with the New York Jets, New York Giants and Seahawks.
In 6 games with the Seattle this season, Marshall caught just 11 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown before being "phased out" of their WR rotation. Marshall dropped four passes in consecutive games at the end of last month, which led to the decision by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll to release him.
Last year during the 2017 season was much of the same, as he grabbed only 18 passes for 154 total yards with zero touchdowns in 5 games for the Giants; before landing on injured reserve with an ankle injury. The Giants ultimately gave up on Marshall in April during his recoveries from toe and ankle surgeries.
In his 13-year career (178 games played) with a total of 6 different NFL teams, Marshall has 970 receptions, 12.351 yards and 83 touchdowns.
Triplett says that the last time Marshall had what you would consider to be a "standout season" was back during the 2015 season with the Jets, when he had 109 catches for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns and earned his sixth career Pro Bowl invitation. But as Triplett also adds: if Marshall is going to make it work anywhere, it's probably in New Orleans.
Why is that, you ask?
The answer is quite simple actually: self-motivation.
By coming to an (8-1) Saints team that has obvious Super Bowl aspirations, Marshall finally has a chance to play in a playoff game for the first time in his 13-year career.
Additionally, he will now get to play under the leadership of an offensive "mastermind" in head coach Sean Payton; and a future NFL Hall of Fame QB in Drew Brees.
And perhaps even more importantly: the opportunity perhaps, to win a World Championship.
Marshall will come in and fill the role that Bryant would have, which is a big-bodied player who will fill the "possession receiver" role within the Saints offense, similar to that previously of Willie Snead (now with the Baltimore Ravens) and Cam Meredith, whose injury created the need for the role to be filled in the first place.
As Triplett observes: the Saints will most likely find a package of plays where Marshall helps in the red zone or on 3rd downs. And although he hasn't been able to get as much separation from defenders in recent years, Triplett adds that Marshall still has terrific size that defenses will have to account for.
Yesterday at his press conference with local reporters, Payton was asked if that "type" of a player (a big-bodied WR), was what led the Saints to pursue both Marshall and Bryant.
"Yeah, I thought size was important, but experience and someone that we felt had strong hands" Payton said. "He's smart, he's experienced, he's someone that's been in a number of systems. And overall he had a good workout. He's got good length and size. He's another big target."
Marshall will likely have to compete for playing time initially with rookie Tre'Quan Smith, 2nd-year veteran Austin Carr and undrafted free agent Keith Kirkwood.
And even though the strong possibility still exists that both 12th year veteran Ted Ginn Jr. and receiver/return specialist Tommylee Lewis could also return from injured reserve this season; Marshall still should have a better-than-average chance to fill either the #2 or #3 wide receiver roles if he proves capable.
Despite his age, Saints fans can at least take comfort in the knowledge that Marshall has always been a tremendous athlete, dating back to his time spent in his "adopted" home state of Florida.
Marshall was actually born "up north" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but his parents moved to (and lived in) Georgia and then eventually Florida — where he played high school football at Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida; just outside of Orlando,
Marshall was a letterman in basketball and track three times at Lake Howell. He played both offense and defense, as he earned All-State honors and was named Seminole County Utility Player of the Year.
However, Marshall's greatest achievements in high school actually occurred in Track and Field; where he competed as a jumper. As a senior, he won the State of Florida Class 3A state championship, landing a personal-best jump of 14.81 meters, and also placed ninth in long jump, recording a jump of 6.88 meters.
Marshall was then subsequently offered a scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida, the nearby university that was only a 14-minute drive from his house (8.6 miles to be exact). Marshall gladly accepted the scholarship and the chance to stay close to home so his friends and family could watch him compete in "big-time" College Football.
As a freshman with the Golden Knights during the 2002 season, he had a limited role and only had two receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown. As a sophomore in the 2003 season, he had 27 receptions for 363 yards and two touchdowns.
It wasn't until his junior year of 2004 however, when Marshall begin to slowly "blossom" into the player he would ultimately become.
In 2004, Marshall appeared in 10 games, including 10 starts. He started three games at wide receiver and seven at safety due to injuries in UCF's secondary. He made his first collegiate start at safety on October 4, 2004, against Buffalo University. He recorded four tackles, including half a sack. Marshall led his entire team in tackles (51) during the 2004 season.. However: Marshall only recorded eight receptions for 84 yards at wide receiver.
Then in his senior year of 2005, it all "came together".
Marshall was named the team's #1 WR after an impressive performance at Spring practice and once again during Fall Camp, prior to the start of the season. He then proceeded to have a "break out" year that put him on the map for NFL scouts, Marshall was named a 2005 Second-Team All-Conference USA wide receiver on offense, after he led the team with 74 receptions for 1,195 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But it was his epic performance in the 2005 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl that put him squarely in the sights of NFL evaluators.
Marshall virtually exploded in that contest, catching 11 receptions for 210 yards and three touchdowns. The 210 yards receiving were the fourth-highest total in single-game history at UCF, as he also set Hawaii Bowl records for most receptions and receiving yards in a game. He was named UCF's MVP in the game, as well.
In a total of 44 games (21 starts) with the Golden Knights program, Marshall had 112 receptions, 1,674 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns in his collegiate career. A few short months later, Marshall was selected in the 4th round (the 119th overall selection) by the Denver Broncos in the 2006 NFL Draft.
It was with the Broncos where Marshall made his name well-known to NFL fans, when he formed a bond with then-Broncos QB Jay Cutler, under the guidance of then-Denver head coach Josh McDaniels (now the offensive coordinator with New England).
In 4 seasons with Denver, Marshall earned a reputation as one the game's most feared young wide receivers by amassing three consecutive 100 catch and 1,100 yard seasons. He caught a grand total of 327 passes for 4,019 yards with 25 touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl twice.
However, Marshall's years in Denver were marked with controversy; and he had a strained relationship with McDaniels, who benched him early on in the season for conduct detrimental to the team, as well as deactivating him for the 2009 season finale for failing to appear at a mandatory physical training session.
He was then traded during the 2010 off-season to the Miami Dolphins; who sent two second-round picks to the Broncos. He spent 2 seasons in South Florida, adding another Pro Bowl selection along with 167 receptions for 2,228 yards, and nine touchdowns.
But then Marshall was traded a 2nd time in 3 years, when Miami decided to send him to the Chicago Bears before the 2012 season, picking up two third-round picks in the exchange. Marshall was "reunited"with QB Jay Cutler, who had taken over as the Bears starting QB when Denver "cleaned house" and traded Cutler as well.
Marshall would go on to make the Pro Bowl and was a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2012, and then he was selected to the Pro Bowl again in 2013. He played three total seasons with Chicago (2012-2014), totaling 279 receptions for 3,524 yards, with 31 touchdowns.
Marshall then was traded AGAIN for the 3rd time in his career, when the Bears decided to trade Marshall to the New York Jets in 2015, picking up a fifth-round pick while also giving the Jets a seventh-round selection in the deal.
In the two seasons with "Gang Green", Marshall caught 168 passes for 2,290 yards with 17 touchdowns, including 14 touchdowns in 2015 when he led the league and was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl.
But after the 2016 season ended, Marshall was released by the Jets in late February of 2017; as that franchise decided to release Marshall in order to fully transition into a rebuilding stage.
Marshall would then go on to sign a two-year, $12 million contract with the New York Giants, where a series of injuries slowed him considerably, and he ultimately opted to have season-ending surgery. Subsequently, he was placed on injured reserve on October 10, 2017.
He was released this past April, and was portrayed as a "free agent bust" by both Giants fans and the New York sports media.
He then of course signed with Seattle but quickly fell out of favor with the Seahawks and Pete Carroll, which brings us right back to present day 2018 and his future in NOLA.
Can Marshall somehow return to the player that he once was? That's highly improbable, given his age and obvious physical decline over the past 13 years.
Let's face it: most NFL WR's are LUCKY if they are able to play into their mid-to-late 30's. They very rarely play beyond that, due to the physical punishment that they endure over time.
And only the amazing former San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame living legend Jerry Rice was the one wide receiver in League history 40 years old or older, to have a "great" season (in the 2002 season with the Oakland Raiders).
But the Saints DON'T NEED Marshall to be "great".
They simply need him to come in and become a solid contributor, in a specified role. And Marshall is capable of doing that, if given the opportunity to do so.
At the age when most NFL WR's are moving on to their next phase in life, 34-year old Saints WR Brandon Marshall still has some "gas left in the tank" — and it might be what ultimately helps New Orleans get to the Super Bowl....