By Adam Hoge-
LAKE FOREST (CBS) — Brandon Marshall was in a hotel room in Boston when he got the call.
“You’ve been traded,” his agent Kennard McGuire told him.
Marshall didn’t believe it.
“What?” the wide receiver replied. “Put Jeff Ireland on the phone. I need to hear it from him.”
It was March 2012. Ireland was the Miami Dolphins’ general manager at the time, and he had just agreed to send Marshall to the Chicago Bears in exchange for two third-round draft picks.
Marshall may have been in disbelief, but he wasn’t upset about the trade. He had already made a list of teams he wanted to be traded to, admitting the environment in Miami “wasn’t right for me.”
“We made a list of three teams, and Chicago was No. 1,” Marshall said Thursday, reflecting back on the trade after signing a three-year extension with the Bears earlier this week. “I wanted to be back with Jay (Cutler). I wanted to be in Chicago. I didn’t even know anything about the history to be honest. I didn’t even know anything about how great this city was, but I wanted to be back with Jay. So that was another prayer answered.”
The idea of getting traded to the Bears wasn’t a new one for Marshall. In fact, he and Cutler had discussed it during the 2011 season.
“I remember talking to Jay my last year in Miami and calling him, telling him to keep his head up because he was getting banged up,” Marshall said. “I started talking to him about possibly getting traded to the Bears. I was like, ‘Man, that would be cool, but I don’t think they’ll do it. They’re way too conservative, and I have a past.’ Jay was like, ‘No, we’ll get it done.’ I said, ‘OK, cool. Let’s talk about it after the season.’ Jay was like, ‘After the season? Let’s try to get it done before the trade deadline.’”
Cutler was hungry for a big wide receiver, but the trade wouldn’t happen that quickly. In fact, it took a leadership change in the Bears’ front office before the deal got done. The Bears fired general manager Jerry Angelo after the 2011 season and hired Phil Emery, who made the deal March 14, 2012, the first day of that year’s trading window.
It was Emery’s first big move as general manager, and the significance — both for the Bears and Marshall — can’t be overstated.
“It was career saving,” Marshall said Thursday. “I don’t think I’d be sitting in this position talking about an extension. I probably wouldn’t even be having the success that I was having on the field in that environment (in Miami). It wasn’t right for me. So I get back with my buddy Jay and having his leadership and his brotherly love really helped.”
But Cutler isn’t the only reason why the former troubled wide receiver has transformed his life in Chicago. In his opening statement Thursday, Marshall thanked everyone from Emery to members of the public relations staff who straighten his ties after games.
“The whole list of people,” he said. “You guys know how great this organization is. So for me it’s a safe environment.”
A safe environment. That’s the key for Marshall. There are rules he has to follow, but the Bears also know how to handle him when a little understanding is needed.
“Last year, I was having problems a little bit in practice, and I just threw my helmet and my gloves down and I started pacing up and down the sidelines,” Marshall recalled. “Some people can look at me and judge me and jump down my throat. But everyone gave me my space and in a couple of plays I was back out there. So that’s why it’s a safe environment for me. Because they understand that I love this game. They know my approach. I don’t mean anything, any harm. So (the trade) was life saving and career saving.”
Bears coach Marc Trestman has become a big part of that. During his list of thank yous Thursday, Marshall arrived at Trestman’s name, and the emotion was visible on his face and in his voice.
“What I’m about to say about coach has nothing to do with football: best in the business,” Marshall said. “So thankful that you’re here, Coach. Coach is amazing. He’s a man that I look up to. He’s a man that I would like to be one day.”
It took some time for Trestman to win over his star wide receiver. Last year’s preseason wasn’t without its drama when it came to Marshall, who was recovering from hip surgery and was frustrated with the lack of rest he was getting.
So when did Marshall fully buy into his new coach?
“After camp. I was nervous at first, man,” Marshall said. “You got a new coach coming in and you’re fighting for position. You want to know if you’re his guy. So he was saying all the right things, but it’s like, ‘Man, is this guy that amazing? Is he lying to us?’”
It wasn’t just what Trestman was preaching. His offense wasn’t exactly what Marshall was used to either.
“It was tough,” Marshall said. “I’m the guy. I get 170 balls a year, and now coach Trestman comes in and he’s moving us all around and spreading the ball around and it’s like, ‘Man, this is going to be different.’”
It was different, but in a good way. Not only did Marshall register 1,205 receiving yards and a career-high 12 touchdowns, but fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery actually beat him out with 1,421 receiving yards, and, more importantly, the Bears finished second in the league in scoring offense.
There once was a day when Marshall might actually be upset about those numbers, just because he didn’t finish first on the team in receiving yards. Not anymore.
“Last year was the first year that I wasn’t selfish,” he said Thursday.
Which brings us to the three-year, $30-million contract extension he signed this week, which will make his payday nearly $40 million over the next four years and keep him in Chicago through until the end of the 2017 season. Sure, it’s a ton of money, but it doesn’t make him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.
“I would love to be the highest-paid receiver in the league, I think every guy should work towards that, but we’re able to have guys like (Jermon) Bushrod, we’re able to have Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett — we have these guys that mean so much to this offense and the success of this team,” Marshall said. “It’s one of those things that you really have to sit back and ask yourself, ‘What is it really about?’”
Right now it’s less about Brandon Marshall and more about his team trying to win a Super Bowl. That’s quite the transformation for someone who admits he once was “a young man lost in Denver.”
So what’s next for Marshall in 2014? He told his quarterback he’s ready for a breakout year.
“Dude, you’ve had seven of them,” Cutler replied.
And with Marshall now locked up with the Bears through 2017, they hope he has four more.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.