One of the last articles I wrote for Acme Packing Company was an analysis of the Bears trade for WR Brandon Marshall. I thought it was an awful trade for the Bears and the comments from that post were pretty sure that I had no idea what I was talking about. Three years later, it still looks like it was an awful trade for the Bears.
The final haul is that the Bears traded two 3rd round draft picks (No. 72 overall in 2012, and No. 82 overall in 2013) for three seasons of production (and headaches) from Marshall plus a 2015 5th round draft choice from the Jets. He also cost the Bears a lot of money. They paid him for the last two seasons of a four-year, $47.5 million contract he signed with the Dolphins plus $9.375 million in 2014 as part of a three-year, $30 million contract he signed a year ago. The money is easy to see, but did he make the Bears any better and what happened to those 3rd round picks?
How much did QB Jay Cutler improve with Marshall? As a receiver, Marshall is going to put up big numbers because he's going to get a ton of targets (462 over the past three seasons). In 2011 without Marshall, Cutler had a QBR of 55.9 and averaged 7.39 yards per attempt. In 2012 with Marshall, he actually declined in both categories (50.2 and 6.99). Cutler's best season as a Bear came in 2013, but was his improvement due to the emergence of Alshon Jeffrey and the free agent addition of Martellus Bennett or because of anything Marshall did? While Marshall has value as a big target wide receiver, he isn't someone who makes a team any better on his own and based on those stats he wasn't worth two 3rd round picks.
With the Bears 2012 3rd round pick, the Dolphins selected DE Olivier Vernon. For a Bears team with little pass rush, that's a big loss. Vernon has recorded 21.5 sacks over the last three seasons. While he had 11.5 sacks in 2013, he logged a negative grade for the year from Pro Football Focus. When the Packers played the Dolphins last season, Vernon was a terror (his 2nd best rating of the season from PFF) and he overall recorded a higher rating on the season according to PFF though his sack total declined. Three picks after Vernon, the Seahawks chose QB Russell Wilson. Viewing the trade as a swap of Vernon or Wilson for Marshall by itself looks awful, but former Bears GM Phil Emery probably wouldn't have actually selected either player. When the Bears were on the clock seven picks after Vernon, they selected safety Brandon Hardin, and Hardin has never played a snap in the NFL.
The Dolphins traded away the Bears 2013 3rd round pick, and the Saints used it to select DT John Jenkins. While there's no player taken in the late 2013 3rd round of Vernon or Wilson's caliber, Jenkins is a useful run stuffer who wouldn't have hurt the Bears over the last two seasons. One interesting side note is that when the Dolphins traded that 3rd round pick away, they received two 4th round picks and traded the second of those selections to the Packers (No. 109 overall). GM Ted Thompson used that pick to select LT David Bakhtiari.
Viewing the trade as Vernon and Bakhtiari for three highly paid seasons of Marshall makes it look like an even bigger mess for the Bears. Holding onto Marshall for another three seasons probably wouldn't have made it look any better or undo the damage that's been done. Though they only received a 5th round pick in return, which isn't nearly as valuable as either of those previous 3rd round picks, the best thing they could have done in this situation is move on. That's why it's a small victory for the Bears and one of the many steps they'll have to make to get back to playoff contention.