Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels decided to bench wide receiver Brandon Marshall for the regular-season finale after he was late to a scheduled therapy session with the Denver medical staff for treatment of a hamstring injury the team already believed he was exaggerating, according to multiple team sources.
Both Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler were not permitted on the sideline or in the locker room when the Broncos lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 44-24 on Sunday, ending their playoff hopes. It is the team's policy not to allow inactive players on the sideline or in the locker room.
The Broncos sent Marshall for an MRI on his hamstring after he complained of the injury during Wednesday's practice. According to team sources, the test indicated that Marshall's hamstring was healthy.
The latest showdown between the head coach and the Pro Bowl receiver actually began the week before when Marshall excused himself from practice, complaining the cold weather was making it difficult for him to breathe.
Then, as the team reviewed tape of its loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, in which Marshall dropped several passes, McDaniels mentioned that certain plays had to be made. Marshall apparently felt he was being unfairly singled out for criticism.
According to Broncos sources, the problems with Marshall and Scheffler came after team leaders including Brian Dawkins, Champ Bailey, Kyle Orton, D.J. Williams and Daniel Graham all met with McDaniels on Monday and encouraged him to take a hardline approach in preparing the team to finish the season against the Chiefs.
"We had the guys that wanted to play in the huddle,'' Orton told the Denver Post. "I appreciate coach for his decision. We're trying to win games and we're trying to build something special. And sometimes you have to make tough decisions. And I stand behind him and I know the other guys do as well.''
That development, combined with a home loss to the Raiders, compelled McDaniels to emphasize the need for accountability in a full team meeting Wednesday. It was later that day when Marshall complained about his hamstring.
Scheffler was presumably demoted to the scout team after he was overheard telling teammates that he couldn't wait for Denver's season to end.
The Broncos do not think it's a coincidence that Marshall became a distraction almost immediately after achieving several personal goals, including having another 100-catch season and making the Pro Bowl. McDaniels has been implementing a team-first mentality similar to that he experienced while part of Bill Belichick's staff with the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
It's possible Marshall has played his last game with the Broncos, sources close to the situation told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Marshall is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, and will be a restricted free agent if next season is uncapped, as is expected.
In an uncapped year, the Broncos would be expected to tender Marshall at the highest level possible -- one worth a first- and third-round draft choice. If another team signed Marshall to an offer sheet, Denver would have seven days to match it. If Denver opted not to match the offer -- and the Broncos have shown little inclination of signing him to a long-term deal -- then Marshall would become the other teams' property and Denver would get back first- and third-round draft choices.
Because Marshall would be a free agent, Denver could not trade Marshall without his signing an offer sheet with another team.
Ed Werder is an NFL reporter for ESPN. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter contributed to this report.