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Updated March 13, 2012 @ 7:53 p.m. ET
New Bears GM Phil Emery started off the NFL's free-agent signing period with a tremor-causing trade, acquiring WR Brandon Marshall from the Dolphins for a stunningly low price, given that Marshall is a 27-year-old true No. 1 wide receiver.
Chicago parted with two third-round picks — one this year and one in 2013 — to land Marshall only two years after Miami had given up two second-round picks for Marshall in a trade with the Broncos.
Marshall is reunited with QB Jay Cutler, his old teammate from their days in Denver. Marshall made 206 catches for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns from 2007-08 when he was catching passes from Cutler as a Bronco.
A six-year veteran, Marshall is signed through 2014 and is owed $28.1 million over the next three seasons. He will earn base salaries of $9.3 million in 2012 and $9.1 million in '13 and '14. This eats up a significant chunk of the $20 million-plus in salary-cap space the Bears were believed to have, but they still have significant space to work with.
The PFW spin
This was a brilliant move by the Bears, who fill their biggest need without gutting themselves in the draft or eating up so much salary-cap space that it would have prevented them from making significant signings in free agency.
Emery is ingratiating himself quite nicely to a fan base that cried out for an upgrade at wide receiver throughout the tenure of former Bears GM Jerry Angelo, who failed to surround Cutler with a supporting cast that would have allowed him to maximize his ability after the team traded for him in '09.
Many around the league are wondering why Miami didn't put a higher price tag on Marshall, a Pro Bowl wide receiver in his prime. He's had his issues on and off the field, including violations of the personal-conduct policy, which resulted in a one-game suspension from the NFL in 2008. Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and made a documentary about his battle. He has clashed with QB Chad Henne and coaches in Denver and Miami, but he and Cutler seem to get along well and there's a bond there that should serve both players well in Chicago.
There is no doubt that there is some risk in adding Marshall to the team. The Broncos and Dolphins both were willing to trade away an elite receiver for a reason.
He's capable of causing some headaches, but for the Bears, this was not an opportunity they could afford to pass up — Chicago hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002. Marshall has eclipsed that mark in each of the last five seasons, and the team has reason to be confident that it has the people in place to keep Marshall in line. Between Cutler, head coach Lovie Smith, offensive coordinator Mike Tice and WR coach Darryl Drake, there will be a strong support staff waiting for Marshall when he arrives.
The Bears aren't done — they still have needs to address and are working to fill holes behind Cutler at quarterback and at defensive end in free agency. There are still questions at receiver, even with Marshall in the fold. Will Johnny Knox return from a severe back injury and be the speedy vertical threat the offense needs? Will there be a first-round pick joining Marshall in the Chicago receiving corps come late April?
Cutler could still use more weapons.
Before those questions are answered, though, we have some clarity on the team's progress in the goal laid out by president and CEO Ted Phillips the day he announced that Angelo had been fired and he would lead a search to replace him. The idea was to close the talent gap between the Bears and the clubs — the Packers and Lions — that finished ahead of them in the NFC North last season.
The Bears are closer. They are not where they want to be quite yet, but this was a smart and significant first step.