Holmes, Marshall are Big Name Receivers on the Move
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Within three days of each other, pro-bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes were dealt from their former employers in fairly similar fashion: both feel that they can replace their production, and frankly, were just tired of their antics.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were rolling in riches at the receiver position when they had Holmes, and are still in a pretty good situation at the position without him. The Denver Broncos pretty much just featured Marshall, and now have a hole in their offense that they are running out of time to fix prior to 2010. As of this morning, it’s the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets who consider themselves a beneficiary of the antics that got these two big names traded.
Let’s take a deeper look at these moves.
On Sunday night, the Steelers shipped Holmes to the Jets for a mere 5th round pick. That’s the news. Here’s your analysis: Holmes is worth a lot more than a 5th round pick for his play, but the market for Holmes services was working against the Steelers. Normally, this would have been the kind of situation where it would have been beneficial for the Steelers to hold onto Holmes for the 2010 season, and re-visit his status at the end of the year, but the Steelers were prepared to just cut Holmes outright rather than exercise the option to keep him, which means ultimately, the time they had to get anything in a trade for Holmes was limited.
Due to this, I cannot conclude with any certainty that there wasn’t a team willing to over bid the Jets for Holmes, and that’s a major negotiation win for the Jets. In a span of less than 7 months, the Jets have managed to add two former first round picks to their roster, two guys who are still on their rookie deals, without giving up so much as a top-two round draft choice. In fact, for Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, they’ve now given up a 3 and a 5. In a vacuum, that’s excellent value. The only problem is that while taking a weakness and adding an influx of raw talent, there’s one person in the Jets organization who is decidedly not benefiting from the acquisition of these targets: QB Mark Sanchez.
Jericho Cotchery is still the best receiver on the Jets’ roster, but Holmes and Edwards are going to be there to fight for the role of “receiver 1a.” There’s mounting evidence to think that Holmes is better than Edwards, but they are both deep threats, and while both are capable of complementing Cotchery — in my opinion the leagues only truly underrated No. 1 WR — neither is capable of complementing each other. Both are in the final year of their contracts. There’s only enough room in the starting lineup for one, with the other just being generally out of place as the no. 3.
If Holmes can’t beat out Edwards, the Jets might not even get a 5th round pick’s worth of production out of Holmes this year. If he does beat out Edwards, he’ll go on to have as strong as a season as Sanchez’ development will allow for, but the team will be losing the value of it’s investment in Edwards. In the draft, the team needs to add some defensive depth because it ignored that side of the ball completely in the 2009 draft. In other words, unless one or the other gets caught, the Holmes-Edwards ball sharing plan could backfire and I’d go as far as saying it could cost the Jets the division in 2010. Otherwise, it’s a minor upgrade for the team, just in line with the difference between Holmes and Edwards on the field, and it certainly puts Edwards’ roster spot in jeopardy.
Knowing all this, it’s Pittsburgh that seems to come out better here. They gave away a LOT of value on the Holmes trade: his play is in line with that of a second round pick, and it’s not like Ben Roethlisberger (or whoever is under center for the Steelers week 1) won’t miss Holmes out there at all, but Hines Ward is still the lifeblood of the offense, and this opens a spot for Mike Wallace to step into the starting lineup and achieve his potential, something that would have been delayed by Holmes playing out his contract in Pittsburgh. This is a different discussion if the Steelers were actively engaged in contract extension discussion with Holmes’ representatives, but it appears that one way or another, the Steelers weren’t planning to have Holmes in the organization much longer. With that in mind, getting a 5th round pick for Holmes is respectable, and not too much below the market rate for a guy with a year remaining on his contract, but forget Holmes, the roster space it frees up for a potential draft pick (Golden Tate?) is valuable as well. So for the Steelers, value lost and all, I kind of like the move.
Early this morning, the Broncos received a pair of second round draft choices from the Dolphins for WR Brandon Marshall. It’s an interesting deal, because Marshall leaves Denver for a very similar situation in Miami: he comes in as unquestionably the number one target, and Kyle Orton/Chad Henne are part of the same echelon of NFL QBs. For Miami, you’ve gone so long without a big play target of any sort, that Marshall probably comes on board as the best target they’ve had since the Marino days.
I know I can’t tell you right away that this is a win for the Dolphins, in fact, I’m not sure how many games (or years) it will be until I can say with any certainty that the Dolphins are better off now than they were yesterday. Marshall is clearly an upgrade over Ted Ginn, and he pairs with Davone Bess to — theoretically — give Miami one of the better receiving corps in the league. This, however, is completely dependent on the Dolphins remaining committed to the running game in a way the Broncos could not while Marshall was on the team.
It’s obvious that from 2007-2009, the Broncos relied on Marshall too much, to the point where he eventually just needed a change of scenery before he could even deliver a playoff berth to the Broncos. This is not to say Marshall wasn’t improving as a player — he was — but for three straight years, Marshall led the NFL in targets and scored 100+ receptions, and the Broncos passing offense couldn’t get out of it’s own way.
In some ways, Marshall is the game’s premier young receiver; in a bunch of other ways, he’s just a guy. Only about four or five other guys command coverage the way Marshall does: by leaving just a defensive back on him, you are begging the offense to let him create a memorable play. Marshall is an excellent bad ball receiver. He can turn a basic long pass down the sideline into a touchdown, and can single-handedly bring an element of big play offense to a unit that was completely lacking. All great reasons to like Miami’s acquisition of him.
Marshall is so spectacular, that it’s caused both Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels to conclude that no matter how their running games are performing, no matter how open their tight ends are, no matter how hot Eddie Royal or Jabar Gaffney are, that all their offensive issues can be solved if you take the game out of the quarterbacks hands and put it in Marshall’s. Well, since 2007, Marshall’s gross numbers have held steady, and his rate numbers have declined. He averaged 13 yards per catch in 07, 12 in 08, and 11 in 09. In the last two seasons, Marshall has only 6 100 yard receiving games. Marshall had no 100 yard receiving games in any of the Broncos’ 8 wins last year. In fact, the last time Marshall went for 100, and the Broncos won, you have to go back to Week 3 of the 2008 season.
Facts like that would lead you to believe that the Broncos will be just fine without Marshall in 2010. Out of the career high 10 TDs Marshall set last year, 5 came in the 8 Broncos wins, the other 5 in the 8 Broncos losses. It’s not like the Broncos are going to be able to replace his production overnight, but then again, they may not need to. They DID pick up two picks in the second round (only one this year though), and those can be used to draft players who, yes, could be the replacement for Brandon Marshall. They could spend the 11th overall pick on someone like Dez Bryant or Golden Tate, or they could wait until the second round, and pick up Arrelious Benn.
Balance is a concept that could benefit the Denver offense, but it’s one that relies on Kyle Orton as the triggerman to make it all work. Orton might not be game without Marshall, and so he’s a big loser in that trade, but a lot of people believe that Brady Quinn is Josh McDaniels’ man anyway. If that’s the case, now was the right time to move Marshall (and eventually Tony Scheffler), and start bringing up the next wave of Broncos receivers. In a way, the Broncos had found themselves cursed by Marshall’s success, and it will be up to the Dolphins to be careful that they don’t overuse Marshall, no matter how many uninformed fans call for an increased role. This has a chance to pay off for the Dolphins, but it’s certainly not guarenteed.
The biggest winners are the two sellers who get invaluable NFL Draft flexibility next week, while the Dolphins and Jets need to get to work against each other, as their positioning in this years’ standings might depend on how well they use their two comparable receiver acquisitions.