FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Doubts and cautious optimism followed Brandon Marshall from Chicago to New York last March.
The Jets pulled off a deal to acquire the star wide receiver for a measly fifth-round draft pick. It was considered a bargain, even a steal, but many fans and media wondered why a guy so talented was heading to his fourth team in 10 years.
There were questions about his health, which contributed to a decline in his production last season. Was this the beginning of what Marshall would now be, a solid but no longer spectacular player?
Also, there were plenty of grumblings about him being a divisive presence in the Bears’ locker room. Was it all worth the risk?
On Friday, Marshall’s teammates selected him as the Jets’ MVP — an award that was equal parts validation and vindication.
“It means a lot, because it was voted on by teammates,” Marshall said. “You just try to serve your teammates every single day on and off the field and be the best you. So, this is an honor.”
Marshall has already set a team record with 101 catches, shattering Al Toon’s previous mark of 93. He also has 1,376 yards receiving, just 59 from breaking Don Maynard’s franchise record, set in 1967. His 13 touchdown catches are one from tying the mark shared by Maynard (1965) and Art Powell (1960).
He has nine games of 100 or more yards receiving, which ties him with Maynard (1967) for the Jets record.
“Just put on the tape, man,” right tackle Breno Giacomini said. “He’s a beast. Eventually, he’ll be a gold jacket (as a Pro Football Hall of Famer). I just love playing with him. He’s a competitor, man. He’s just great. It’s great to see him come to work, ever since the first day he stepped in here.”
Marshall has also galvanized the offense, developing a rapport with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick while also complementing Eric Decker to help establish the kind of air attack Jets fans have only dreamt about for years.
“I know he’s gotten some bad pub or whatever, but I disagree with everything,” Giacomini said. “From everything I’ve seen, he’s been great.”
Marshall’s troubles in Denver are well-documented, with domestic violence issues and a drunk driving charge overshadowing his play on the field for the Broncos. While in Miami in 2011, Marshall announced he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, sought treatment, and has since worked tirelessly as an advocate for mental health awareness.
“He had the same abilities in Miami,” said Jets coach Todd Bowles, who spent time with Marshall with the Dolphins from 2010-11. “I think he’s grown more mentally. With experience, he’s grown more and learned a few things while he was gone, and now that I have him again, he’s a totally different person mentally. He’s matured, and you’re supposed to when you’re in the league that long, and he’s got a calm about himself and a leadership role that is undeniable.
“I’m just happy to see it.”
Marshall was traded to Chicago in 2012, and it started off well there before taking a turn last season as negative stories were written and things were said about his effect on the Bears’ locker room.
“I’m definitely disappointed in the way things turned out there,” Marshall said. “The main reason is because when I left Miami, it’s all I focused on was the type of person I wanted to be, on and off the field. I do know that I’m very emotional and very competitive, so to see that kind of get ripped away from me, that hurt. You know, I could care less about the stats and the awards. I wanted my character to be rebuilt, and I did that. And, then, it was ripped away from me.
“I’m still a little angry about that, but I’m just going to use that for motivation to keep going.”
Marshall, 31, is on the verge of reaching the postseason for the first time in his career. He predicted before the season that the Jets would win 12 games, and he could end up being just one off.
He expected New York to have a strong defense, offensive line and running game, but acknowledged he was uncertain about the passing game. Marshall considers the success the team is having in that area to be “a true gift” that has helped the Jets become a complete offense.
And, for most of his teammates, Marshall has been the biggest reason.
“Maybe he’s changed and maybe he’s learned, but that’s what you expect to happen, for people to grow and learn from your past experiences,” Giacomini said. “I think he’s a great example of that. He’s definitely our team MVP, on and off the field.”