Former Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was making the rounds Wednesday, telling ESPN hosts and viewers how the Falcons and Patriots each can win the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The only thing Marshall has won in his career is the Player Most Likely to Sabotage a Locker Room Award (multiple times), so this was like a llama teaching driver’s ed.
But it did get me thinking about former Bears, which led me to Martellus Bennett and Shea McClellin, both of whom play for the Patriots, and Jay Cutler, who likely will play for someone else next season, possibly the 49ers.
When the Bears traded Bennett to the Patriots in March, the not-so-quiet whispers were that he had been a divisive force in their locker room — and, as everybody knows, character is so very important to this franchise.
That’s why Bears general manager Ryan Pace went to chairman George McCaskey in 2015 to make the case for adding troubled defensive end Ray McDonald to the roster. McCaskey gave his blessing to sign the former 49er, and McDonald was arrested on domestic-violence and child-endangerment charges two months later. The Bears released him six hours after the news broke.
Bennett lives in his own universe, filled with cartoon characters, perceived slights and imaginative thoughts soon to be utterances, but he’s also a very good, very tough tight end. He wasn’t what the Bears had in mind when they were trying to establish a winning culture in the organization. He sulked about his contract and was prone to general goofiness.
OK, fine. But there’s a huge difference between a true locker-room distraction, which is what Marshall was, and a player who will make you roll your eyes at times, which is what Bennett does. Are his abilities worth more than his pain-in-the-butt tendencies? They are.
Why do the Patriots seem to be able to salvage players other teams don’t want? Bennett has filled in well for injured Rob Gronkowski, and McClellin has been decent for them after a bust of a career with the Bears. The Patriots have turned Chris Hogan, a former college lacrosse player and a serviceable pro receiver, into a player who led the NFL in yards per catch in 2016. How is that possible?
The answer is that the Patriots have two people, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, nobody else does. Brady’s talent and enthusiasm let players know they’d be advised to follow him if they want to win. Most do. Bennett certainly has.
Belichick revels in creating household names out of obscure players. He takes disparate parts and makes a whole lot of trouble for opposing teams. McClellin was a running joke in Chicago, a Phil Emery first-rounder who couldn’t play, and Belichick made him serviceable.
Perhaps McClellin would have been a better player in Chicago if he had had better players around him. Perhaps Bennett still would be here if he had had a quarterback he respected (see his various quotes about Cutler’s lack of leadership skills). The Bears lead the league in wistfulness.
The Cutler-to-the-49ers discussion is more of a connect-the-dots exercise than it is a breaking-news story. But for those of us who want to see Cutler gone, we’ll take it. ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio says the ties between Cutler and new 49ers GM John Lynch, a former teammate of Cutler’s with the Broncos, mean the 49ers might be interested in him.
Florio found a 2009 radio interview with Lynch in which the subject of Cutler came up.
‘‘I like Jay; he’s a friend of mine,’’ Lynch said. ‘‘He had some growing up to do, probably still has some growing up to do. But in saying that, I think the Broncos erred in letting him go.
‘‘This is a guy, in my mind, that’s a once-in-every-15-year-type talent. He’s got that kind of skill. I think he’ll grow into the other things. I sometimes think during this whole ordeal they tried to paint him as a bad guy, but he’s not a bad guy at all. He’s got some growing up to do, but hopefully he learned something from this whole ordeal and offseason.’’
Cutler possibly is a one-great-season-out-of-15-type quarterback, but the way things generally go for the Bears, that one great season probably would end up with the 49ers in the Super Bowl. And all those people who have gnashed their teeth and rent their garments will say that Jay was misunderstood and that the coaches and GMs he went through like firewood in winter didn’t know what they were doing.
It would be so Bears. Which means it probably will happen.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.