The likelihood of Brandon Marshall eclipsing Hall of Famer Cris Carter’s receiving milestones boils down to one simple question: Can Marshall maintain his current level of production over the next four to five years?
Over eight seasons with Chicago, Miami and Denver, Marshall has averaged 89 catches for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns per year, for a career total of 712 receptions for 9,050 yards and 57 touchdowns.
Carter finished his 16-year NFL career with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns.
There is little chance Marshall will break Carter’s touchdown mark, but the Bears wideout only needs 389 catches and 4,849 receiving yards to pass Carter on the list of the all-time NFL receivers.
That is doable. In fact, Marshall actually has more receptions, yards and touchdowns than Carter did in his first eight years, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but Carter managed to last an impressive 16 seasons in the league.
Marshall, 30, stated on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko Show” on Tuesday that he’s focused on playing 14 seasons until he reaches the age of 36. But even if Marshall ends his career two years before Carter ended his, the evidence suggests Marshall can finish with more receptions and receiving yards.
First of all, Marshall has been extremely durable, missing just six regular season games over eight years, despite undergoing three hip surgeries.
Secondly, he’s been reunited with his old Denver quarterback, Jay Cutler, in Chicago, and the results speak for themselves. In only two seasons with the Bears, Marshall has caught 218 passes for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns.
An argument can be made that Marshall was the Bears' only target on offense in 2012 and therefore put up some of those numbers by default, but the Bears were flush at talent at the skill positions last year (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett) and Marshall still managed to have another Pro Bowl year and record his fifth 100-plus catch season -- Marshall is the only player in NFL history to catch 100 balls for two different teams (Bears and Broncos).
With Marshall (four years, $40 million) and Cutler (seven years, $126.7 million) both under contract for the foreseeable future, Marshall can theoretically expect to play with his favorite quarterback for possibly the rest of his career, a luxury few wide receivers are afforded.
Thirdly, while statistical evidence suggests running backs fall off a cliff in terms of production when they hit a certain age, wide receivers have been known to flourish deep into their 30s.
One of the best recent examples of this phenomenon is Terrell Owens, who topped the 1,000-receiving yard mark five times after turning 30 and continued to be a productive player up until he left the league at age 37.