Bears still weigh character heavily in player acquisitions
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org April 22, 2012 8:26PM
Despite numerous off-the-field issues, Brandon Marshall has the support of Bears brass. | Rick Stewart~Getty Images
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Updated: May 24, 2012 8:27AM
In nearly three full months as the Bears’ general manager, Phil Emery has improved the roster. But his biggest decision, acquiring Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for two third-round draft picks, raised the question of whether Emery has changed the team’s emphasis on character.
A three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in his prime, Marshall has had numerous off-the-field issues, dating to his days at Central Florida. He announced at a news conference last July that he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Emery said at the NFL owners meetings last month that he didn’t compromise anything in adding Marshall.
“I went through that step-by-step process,” he said. “ ‘What does he bring as a player and a person? What is his background, and can he succeed in our environment?’ The answer to me is yes.”
In separate interviews, chairman George McCaskey, president Ted Phillips and coach Lovie Smith reinforced the decision and insisted that the club’s value on character hasn’t changed as it approaches the NFL draft, which begins Thursday.
“There always is [an emphasis on character],” Phillips said. “We’ll always care about character, but we have to balance that with football-playing ability. And to get a player like Brandon Marshall, who not only admitted he has an issue but is trying to do something about it and share his story with others, says a little bit about the man, as well.”
The right mix
Emery didn’t focus solely on Marshall. He also considered the personnel already in place, in the locker room and on the coaching staff.
“Every team has a wide variety of personalities and different backgrounds,” he said. “We want to make sure we understand all the elements of a player and fitting him into a situation, and I see Brandon as a fit. We’re excited he is with us and looking forward to his contributions as a player and a person.”
Emery, Phillips and McCaskey pointed to Marshall’s accountability and his willingness to become a national spokesman for the mental illness that affects about 14 million adults.
“I thought he did an outstanding job during his press conference, talking about his background and taking ownership for the problems he’s had and trying to move forward as a person and player so he can be at his best,” Emery said. “And that ability to show those qualities, and to be humble, and admit your mistakes, and the willingness and want to move forward is what convinced me, given the strength of our building, that Brandon would be a good fit.”
Smith said each player has to be evaluated on his own merits.
“No one is perfect,” Smith said. “Brandon would be the first guy to admit that he hasn’t handled some situations as well as he needs to. I believe in a second chance.
“I think we have an excellent locker room for a player who wants a fresh start, that I feel like is a good guy and fits what we’re trying to do.”
Pulling the trigger
Since making the trade, the Bears have answered countless questions about Marshall and character.
“If there was a big concern, we wouldn’t have made the trade,” Smith said. “So we feel comfortable. We checked out Brandon Marshall, and we’re excited about him being a Chicago Bear.”
Certainly, Emery made an impression, executing a major trade as a rookie GM.
“You have to make bold decisions,” Phillips said. “Personnel acquisitions are always full of risks for different reasons, depending on the player and the position. He’s the kind of playmaker we need.”
Added McCaskey: “It’s part of what we expect out of that position. When an opportunity like that presents itself, you’re going to strike.”
With a pick in every round, the Bears might have the chance to make a value pick on a player with character concerns. Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd, projected to be drafted in the first round, appears to have allayed many concerns. But there are other talented players who could be drafted lower than expected because of off-the-field issues, including South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery and North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
As it relates to Marshall, though, Emery resisted the notion that the receiver’s future is on him. He engaged numerous people at Halas Hall about Marshall, although he made the ultimate call.
“It’s on all of us. It’s on myself. It’s on Brandon,” Emery said. “It’s a team effort in all areas.
“Will I take responsibly for him? Yes, because he’s a teammate. I would for anyone.”