This is not a good time for Denver’s relationship with Brandon Marshall to sour again.
But that is exactly what is happening.
Denver coach Josh McDaniels dropped a New Year’s Day bombshell when he announced Friday that Marshall -- the focal point of the team’s offense -- will be deactivated Sunday against Kansas City, a critical game for Denver’s playoff hopes. Marshall suffered a hamstring injury in practice Wednesday. He didn’t practice Thursday, but the team expected him to be available Sunday.
Expect Marshall to renew his efforts to leave Denver. If there is an uncapped year, Marshall will be a restricted free agent. It’s difficult to believe Denver will give Marshall a lucrative new deal after benching him for a game with the playoffs on the line.
This is another bold move that puts McDaniels in the spotlight. McDaniels began his career as a head coach by trading Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler and has shown he is not afraid of making controversial moves.
McDaniels is clearly not pleased as his team has lost seven of the past nine games after starting 6-0. In addition to the Marshall move, McDaniels said Friday that he may not activate tight end Tony Scheffler on Sunday because he hasn’t been accountable. The Denver Post reported Friday that Scheffler will not play. Earlier in the week, McDaniels criticized his offensive line for not opening holes in the running game.
While Marshall has bounced back from several issues in Denver, this situation may be difficult to recover from. Benching a player with the playoffs on the line is a colossal move by a coach.
McDaniels wouldn’t be specific why Marshall will be deactivated. But he indicated that Marshall hasn’t been accountable and he said that there are other Denver players who will play Sunday with more significant injuries than Marshall. Marshall was informed by McDaniels that he wouldn’t play against the Chiefs shortly before McDaniels met with the media. Many players in the Denver locker room were unaware of the situation.
Marshall told reporters that he is hurt and indicated he was surprised by the development. Marshall took a shot at his coach when he was told by media members that McDaniels said there are players with worse injuries than Marshall who will play Sunday. Marshall said since McDaniels, 33, never played in the NFL he likely doesn’t know what it is like to play injured.
Marshall wanted to be traded earlier in the season. He was suspended by the team in late August after he was filmed by a local television station making a mockery of a practice.
However, Marshall, who was named to his second straight Pro Bowl team this week, has become Denver’s most reliable weapon. Marshall has 101 catches this season. He is the fifth player in NFL history to catch at least 100 passes in three straight seasons. Marshall has been in the NFL for four seasons. Last month, Marshall set an NFL record with 21 catches against Indianapolis.
Marshall is one of most targeted receivers in the NFL in many situations. Denver’s second-leading receiver is Jabar Gaffney with 40 catches. Denver’s other healthy receivers Sunday will be Brandon Stokley and Brandon Lloyd. Eddie Royal is trying to come back from neck and head injuries that kept him out of last week's game against Philadelphia.
It will be a major adjustment for Denver quarterback Kyle Orton.
Despite all of Marshall’s preseason issues, McDaniels and Marshall clearly connected this fall. In addition to the field chemistry, McDaniels and Marshall seemed to grow close personally. They hugged on the field and during a news conference in October. In a game in Kansas City last month, Marshall gave his coach a ball after a touchdown.
McDaniels and Marshall are extremely emotional and very competitive. The relationship appeared to be working.
Now times are tough in Denver and McDaniels has decided that he’d rather move on without Marshall.