Now we know that the Denver Broncos really didn't care about keeping wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Now we know that head coach Josh McDaniels was determined to make a trade and dump the Pro Bowler to the highest bidder.
Surely, in the aftermath of Denver sending Marshall to Miami for a second-round draft pick this year and another in 2011, many observers will praise the Broncos for being able to squeeze that much out of the Dolphins.
But none of that applause will come from here.
Denver just gave up its most talented player, and could only get two No. 2s in return? Excuse me for not jumping on that bandwagon. One former National Football League executive (he never wanted to be quoted, so we'll continue to honor that wish) once made a fitting point with absolute clarity, and those words came back to mind after the word came Wednesday morning of the Marshall trade.
"When you're comparing players in this league," that longtime NFL insider said, "sometimes two B-level players might equal one A player. But two Bs are never as good as a superstar."
Today, the Broncos have rolled the dice, hoping those two second-rounders bring someone as good as Marshall.
Don't bet on it.
In fact, McDaniels and the Denver front office now are facing huge pressure to make the most of the 2010 NFL Draft next week.
That's asking a lot. Denver still has the No. 11 pick in the first round starting next Thursday. But the Broncos now have put themselves on the spot to use that choice for receiver Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State, if he's still available.
Also, it's not like Bryant is a certain star, and he comes with his own baggage, starting with having lied to NCAA investigators last year about his relationship with former NFL great Deion Sanders. That led to Bryant being suspended after three games for the rest of his final college season. Then he skipped the NFL scouting combine and another scheduled pre-draft workout. When he finally did work out, there were questions about his performance.
Of course, it didn't help Denver's dealing with other teams when the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to get rid of Santonio Holmes, their own gifted but character-flawed receiver. Holmes could be considered a top-five NFL wideout, yet the Steelers unloaded him for a fifth-round pick from the New York Jets. Nothing like helping a playoff team from the same conference.
Heck, Denver could've given Pittsburgh more than that. Instead, now the Broncos have helped another AFC team that figures to be a possible playoff contender, especially with Marshall as its No. 1 target.
You simply don't see receivers like Marshall often: 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, fast with moves, great hands, capable of 15 to 20 receptions a game in the NFL even with defenses paying close attention. I first saw him in college at the University of Central Florida, and even then, he was clearly special. He also just turned 26, which means he could continue as a Pro Bowler for at least five more years.
Sure, he's had behavior issues. But my impression always has been that Marshall does not deserve the rap for lack of character. Lack of maturity, yes, most definitely. Bad choices at times, no doubt. But when his equilibrium is steady, which it can be for extended periods, Marshall will not wreck a team's chemistry, like a Terrell Owens. And Marshall has 327 catches for 4,019 yards in four seasons, including three straight years with at least 100 catches. (Only four others have ever done that, including Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.)
Who else could step in for Denver? Eddie Royal has not shown he can be more than a No. 2 guy, and there's nobody else capable of filling that kind of role. If Royal can flourish in 2010, that might change the outlook. But we'll have to see that kind of progress to believe it.
Quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn need somebody like Marshall, or they'll be scrambling far more when nobody's open. That's the best reason why Denver should have given Marshall another chance to grow up.
That didn't happen. And the Broncos probably will live to regret it.