The New York Giants struck before free agency officially opens by signing wide receiver Brandon Marshall to a reported two-year deal worth $12 million. The specifics of the contract probably won’t be announced until later concerning things like how much of that money is guaranteed, but that’s a discussion for a different time.
Right now we’ll focus on the move that has been widely discussed in this space over the past week since Marshall’s release from the New York Jets. Those discussions raised some valid concerns, but overall Marshall is a great fit for the Giants to go with Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Much of that comes from him still being a pretty good football player.
Sure he had a down year in 2016, but much of that can be placed on the quarterback play of the Jets between the implosion of Ryan Fitzpatrick and whatever Bryce Petty was. For the first time in Marshall’s 11-year career, he posted a below 50 percent catch rate. And while he had some problems with drops -- Football Outsiders charted him with 10 on the season -- it wasn’t much different than the year before. Marshall had eight in 2015 when he still caught 63 percent of his targets, had 1,500 yards, 14 touchdowns, and made the Pro Bowl.
Marshall is going to turn 33 years old at the end of March, and while that easily makes him the veteran of the Giants receiving corps, it shouldn’t be much of a concern for his on-field ability. What keeps Marshall going is that his skill set ages quite well. He’s never been a burner or someone who solely relies on agility and athleticism. He can do those things, but mostly Marshall is a big, physical receiver who can impose his will on defenders. These types of skills allow players like Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald to play and excel into their mid- and late-30s. Marshall should be considered part of that group.
What Marshall adds to the Giants immediately is a legitimate third option at wide receiver, something the team wants on the field almost every play. Last season, 90.6 percent of Eli Manning’s pass attempts came with at least three receivers on the field. While Marshall has a big body -- he’s 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds -- and plays mostly on the outside, he has the ability to play from the slot which would give the Giants the advantage of rotating their top three receivers around to any spot in the formation to create matchup nightmares for the defense.
Part of Marshall’s skill set that should allow him to age well is his physicality and route running. This allows him to get open on a consistent basis. Take this play from early in the 2016 season against Richard Sherman. Marshall engaged with Sherman as he attempted to press, fought him off with a swim move, and got behind the corner for a big gain.
Where this can really help the Giants is inside the red zone, where the Giants have not been good at creating points over the past few seasons. In 2015, the Giants were 31st in points per red zone trip and 28th in touchdowns per red zone trip. Last season that improved to just below average -- 17th in points and 16th in touchdowns.
Over the past two seasons, Marshall has caught 13 red zone touchdowns, which is fourth-most in the league over that span, and he was also the most targeted player inside the 20 with 42 passes his way. Beckham is close behind with 39 targets (fourth) and 11 touchdowns (eighth). Putting the two together should create an almost endless amount of possibilities that close to the end zone.
Marshall still has the ability to win big (bottom of screen):
And with the right play design, he can win small too. Imagine the Giants running this play with Beckham as the iso receiver along with Shepard and a tight end with Marshall lined up in the bunch. Just that formation alone would put stress on the defense deciding who should cover which receivers.
Of course, Marshall’s concerns come off the field. However, he handled himself fairly well with the New York spotlight in his two seasons with the Jets. There was a brief dust-up with Darrelle Revis in training camp, but no problems arose between the two after that. The only incidents in the locker room for Marshall with the Jets came in two exchanges with Sheldon Richardson. The first came early in the season in a dispute following the Jets’ 1-3 start and the second came during a blowout loss to the Patriots in Week 16 when Marshall addressed the team during halftime, something Richardson did not take well.
During Richardson’s tenure with the Jets, he hasn’t quite been the model teammate between a four-game suspension for a failed drug test, a high-speed police chase with a 12-year-old in the passenger seat, and whatever went on with his Snapchat before a Week 15 game against the Miami Dolphins. Richardson should not get all of the blame here, but considering the one teammate that caused Marshall problems had some of his own isn’t completely an indictment of Marshall’s behavior.
The biggest concern is the prospect of having two highly emotional wide receivers in the same room with Marshall and Beckham. However, as extensive as Marshall’s past locker room troubles have been, he’s appeared to get along with the members of his position group. He was even an active figure in the development of Alshon Jeffery during his time in Chicago.
What really helps cure any time of locker room issues is winning games. And with Marshall now a part of the team, the offense has improved, which makes the chance of winning games much higher, too.