The Seattle Seahawks have had a number of star veteran receivers come and quietly go during Pete Carroll’s eight-year tenure with the team. We don’t need to name them all again. Partly because of that, fans don’t need to dig hard to find reasons for skepticism when it comes to the short and long-term outcomes for Brandon Marshall. There are plausible scenarios where Marshall doesn’t make it past the first round of cuts, doesn’t make the final roster, makes the final roster but has little impact and is released soon after — it’s the Antonio Bryant scenario, the Terrell Owens scenario, and the Braylon Edwards scenario.
I guess I named some of them after all.
Marshall-specific reasons for skepticism include the fact that he hasn’t really been an impactful receiver since 2015. That he missed all but five games last year with the New York Giants, and when he was healthy, he was very bad. That he’s bounced around with five different teams and been deemed a locker room problem. And that 34, Marshall is likely not going to trend upwards at this stage of his career. In fact, many great receivers have fallen off in their early 30s, and had even retired prior to their age 34 season. We still don’t even know if Marshall will ever play in a regular season game again ...
But just because 34 is old, it’s absolutely not too old. In fact, some great receivers in recent history had also looked finished prior to 34, only to come back and play some of their best football while facing potential career death.
Dating back to 1999 (I choose this year because of the change that the ‘99 Rams had on passing in the NFL and because it’s not too ancient of a history), 14 receivers have put up at least 1,000 yards during their age 34-season.
Note that not all of these 14 seasons were necessarily “good.” Reggie Wayne’s 2012 season with rookie Andrew Luck especially stands out as overrated because of his paltry 6.95 yards per target, five touchdowns, and 54.4% catch percentage, leading to him finishing 41st in DYAR. Larry Fitzgerald can catch a lot of balls, but ranked 28th in DYAR last year because of similarly low Y/T and touchdowns. But there’s plenty to like on this list too.
Marvin Harrison’s last net-positive season before entering the moonlight came at age 34, helping Peyton Manning win his first Super Bowl that year. In his second season with the Cowboys, Owens proved why he was one of the most special players in league history even though plenty of football fans never wanted him around; during one six-game stretch in the middle of 2007, Owens had 44 catches, 796 yards, 10 touchdowns, and averaged 13.05 Y/T. Former Seahawk Joey Galloway was way more written off than just one bad season before he turned 34: Galloway was averaging 34 catches, 515 yards, and three touchdowns per year from age 28-33. Then at 34, he had 83/1,287/10. He topped 1,000 yards in each of the next two seasons with the Bucs.
Even more close to home was the unexpected resurgence of Bobby Engram in 2007. At age 34, after 11 NFL seasons, Engram had never topped 1,000 yards. At age 33, he missed nine games and averaged 41.4 yards a game with only one touchdown. I’m sure many questioned if he’d even make the Seahawks the next season. Instead, Engram was targeted 134 times, caught a career-high 94 passes, with 1,147 yards and six touchdowns. He was 10th in DYAR, outshining teammates Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. Engram never caught another NFL touchdown, retiring following a short 2009 season with the Chiefs.
But he was very valuable during that 2007 season.
None of which is to say that Marshall will be valuable at age 34.
Early on in Giants camp last season, Marshall was drawing rave reviews by the media: “On Monday, though, Marshall gave the Giants their first real glimpse of the pass-catching force they hope he can be. In his most prolific practice since signing with the team in the offseason, Marshall seemed to be all over the field. One minute he was blowing past cornerback Eli Apple at the line of scrimmage and making a juggling catch on a deep pass in the end zone, the next he was emerging with the football from an intersection filled with defensive backs trying to knock it away.”
Then in an August 22 preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, Marshall injured his shoulder. (It’s the same game that knocked out Odell Beckham, so don’t tell me the Browns didn’t have a significant impact on the NFL last year.) He ended up missing practices and finishing the preseason with just one catch for two yards. In addition to the injury, Marshall was not meant to be New York’s number one receiver, he was supposed to provide a second option behind Beckham.
In Week 1, without Beckham, Marshall caught one of four targets for 10 yards. In Week 2, with Beckham working his way back into the offense, Marshall caught one of five targets for 17 yards. Over the next two weeks, Marshall was at least better, catching 14 of 21 targets for 112 yards, while Beckham received 28 targets. That was much more in line with “the plan,” though Marshall was still nowhere near the player he was in 2015, when he tied with Doug Baldwin and Allen Robinson with 14 touchdowns.
Now he’s fighting to be the number two behind Baldwin.
There’s nothing about Marshall’s 2017 season to suggest that he’ll be a great player this year, or that he’ll even make Seattle’s roster. We also must treat his season with the Giants as a year in a vacuum — a vacuum that truly sucks for all kinds of reasons. He was injured. He was working with a new quarterback. He wasn’t supposed to be the number one receiver. Overall, New York was a bigger dumpster fire than the Browns were, because they were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. The offense was terrible with or without Marshall, that’s why Ben McAdoo was fired. Marshall wasn’t the only problem.
Does it mean that Marshall has anything left in the tank? No. Even if we strike 2017 from the record, 2016 was still awful, with Marshall ranking 82nd in DYAR while playing in 15 games. He may have been finished at 32, not 33, and forget 34. His advantages this year are that he’s playing with Russell Wilson — the best quarterback he’s ever had — and there are zero expectations for him to contribute at a high level. Or at any level. Most fans have already written him off. Whether it’s because of his attitude, his health, his last two seasons, or his age.
Maybe he’s finished. But recent history has shown us plenty of examples of why he’s not necessarily too old.