Brandon Marshall has almost always been that guy. Even as a fourth-round pick out of Central Florida, he quickly became the Denver Broncos’ unequivocal No. 1 receiver by his second professional season. And he’s been a No. 1 with the Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears and New York Jets ever since.
Things are about to change with his fifth NFL team.
Marshall signed a two-year deal Wednesday with the New York Giants, where Odell Beckham Jr. has staked his claim not only as the Giants’ No. 1 receiver but also as one of the league’s best receivers. Beckham has reached three Pro Bowls in three seasons despite not being surrounded by another Pro Bowl skill player.
Marshall, 32, seems to understand his role, even if it’s different from what he’s become accustomed to over the past 10 years, during which he reached six Pro Bowls. Marshall called himself and slot receiver Sterling Shepard “No. 2s” during a radio interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa and pointed out that playing opposite Beckham could help everyone involved.
“I just think there is a lot of opportunity on the other side of Odell with a young guy in Shepard being in the slot. Being on the outside, every team tries to take out Odell and [I’m] just [trying] to help out the offense, offensive coordinator and quarterback just to keep defensive coordinators and the opposing defense honest,” Marshall said during a conference call with reporters. “I think there is a lot of opportunity to definitely produce, given that Odell is on the other side.
“And I also think that in our room I have a wealth of experience that is there and I think our guys can pull from organically. I think it’s something that doesn’t need to be forced or strategically planned on. Those guys, when they need to, they will pull from me in an organic way.”
On the field, it seems to be a win-win for everybody. Marshall is the big-bodied receiver the Giants missed last season, especially in the red zone. Even though he struggled with a 46.7 percent catch rate (143rd among 144 qualifying players) last season in part because of the Jets’ problems at quarterback, the feeling is that he can still help resurrect a Giants offense that struggled to score points in 2016.
According to one NFC executive:
“Still big and strong, knows how to use his body. Goes up and gets it, and he played well at times.”
That will work for the Giants. They don’t need the 100-plus-catch Marshall from the past. They don’t need 14 touchdowns playing opposite Beckham, who is a touchdown waiting to happen.
The Giants just need a more consistent and physical player (including in the run game) than Victor Cruz, who had 39 catches for 586 yards and one touchdown in the role last year as Beckham’s sidekick.
This will be a transition for Marshall. He’s never played with another receiver of Beckham’s ilk. Not even close.
It should help that he at least knows what he was signed to be and do, and that there is some familiarity and camaraderie between the Giants’ No. 1 and new No. 2 receiver.
“I have had a great relationship with Odell for the past two years. Two years ago, we started building a relationship. I just love the guy to death,” Marshall said. “He’s the biggest star in the NFL, between Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, it’s a toss-up of who is the best receiver in the league, and I’m excited about that. I love his passion, I love his approach to the game and I’m just happy I can be on the other side of him to pull coverage and make his job easier.”
It’s one thing for Marshall to say it and believe it. It will be another for him to live this new reality. What happens when the ball all of a sudden isn’t coming his way as often as it has in the past? What happens when he’s not having plays called for him like he did with the Jets, Bears, Dolphins and Broncos? The Giants are hoping he handles it as a normal No. 2 receiver would.
This will all be an adjustment that Marshall will have to make. The Giants bet $12 million it’s an investment that won’t backfire in their locker room.
But the only way to assure it works is to score more points and win games. That is why the Giants signed Marshall, and why Marshall signed with the Giants, even if he claims this was the lowest offer he received.
“The best way I can describe how I approach it is being able to have a real shot at [winning a championship],” he said. “I think that is what I have here.”
Even if it means being a No. 2 receiver.