What Does the Brandon Marshall Trade Mean for the New York Jets?

After spending time in Chicago, Brandon Marshall is now a New York Jet. What does this mean for the offense?

Trades in the NFL both rarely happen or hold much significance. Well, someone should tell that to some front offices in the league, because that hasn’t been the case this week.

On Friday, the New York Jets traded a fifth-round pick to acquire Brandon Marshall from the Chicago Bears, along with the hopes and dreams of a competent offense that has escaped the Jets for years.

There are less unanswered questions than there were following the Eagles-Bills trade earlier this week that sent LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and Kiko Alonso to Philadelphia. The motives are more clear. The Bears, now in a process of rebuilding, wanted to rid themselves of a soon-to-be 31-year-old receiver who has occasionally been a disruptive force in the locker room and was set to cost no less than $7.7 million against the salary cap for each of the next three seasons. The Jets, meanwhile, wanted to bring in a big-name wide receiver to help give the offense a spark.

But can Brandon Marshall provide that spark?

Marshall's Current State

Even dating back to his days with the Denver Broncos, Brandon Marshall has been an effective high-volume receiver. Before injuries his 2014 season short, Marshall hadn't seen fewer than 140 targets since his rookie year in 2006. He can still be that type of player -- he still saw over 100 targets in 13 games this past season.

Judging Marshall’s 2014 output can't be done without noting that he wasn't playing at 100 percent health for most of the year. Although he only missed three games -- the final three games after fracturing his ribs -- Marshall was listed on Chicago’s injury report in seven other weeks in 2014. He stayed on the field, but it clearly hurt his production. As a result, last season saw Marshall have his worst year on a per play basis by Net Expected Points (NEP) since 2010, and in terms of cumulative production (Reception NEP), it was his worst season since becoming a starter.

Here’s a snapshot of Marshall’s past five years of production by NEP, which feature his two seasons in Miami and three in Chicago

YearGamesRec.Rec. NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP/TargetCatch Rate

One could pin that 2014 decline on the injuries, and hope a healthy Marshall could be closer to the player he was before this past season. But his 0.63 per target Reception NEP average is nothing to write home about -- it ranked 36th among the 56 receivers with 50 or more catches last year, coming in 12 spots lower than teammate Alshon Jeffery. His Target NEP -- which factors in what happens on each target, not just receptions -- was 40th among this same group, while Jeffery's ranked 17th.

Last season, Brandon Marshall wasn't a number-one receiver.

Is There a Fit in New York?

With all of that being said, even the 2014 version of Marshall would be a significant help to the Jets’ receiving corps.

For all the talk about Eric Decker being better as a number-two receiver in an offense, he did quite well for himself during his first year as a Jet, especially considering how the rest of the passing game performed. The Jets finished 23rd as a team in Adjusted (for strength of opponent) Passing NEP, but Decker still finished 22nd in Reception NEP. Decker, too, was the lone bright spot catching passes from Geno Smith last season -- take a look at his per target efficiency versus his teammates in the chart below.

NameRec.Rec. NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP/TargetCatch Rate
Eric Decker7488.8511447.940.7864.91%
Jeremy Kerley3831.1275-10.110.4150.67%
Jace Amaro3828.335314.460.5371.70%
Percy Harvin*5131.8678-0.910.4165.38%

*Harvin’s stats are his full year, combined between the Jets and Seahawks.

Whether Marshall or Decker is the true number-one receiver next year really won’t really matter. If Marshall's down year was due to health, and if he can bounce back to being 100 percent, the Jets do, indeed, have two top-25 wide receivers on their team entering 2015. That can't hurt a struggling quarterback like Geno Smith.

Now, under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, the 2015 Jets were already expected to look much different on offense. “Ground and pound” was a popular buzz phrase during the Rex Ryan era, and while the amount of pounding that was accomplished could be debating, the offense did certainly keep it on the ground. The Jets ranked 28th in pass-to-run ratio last year, which when looking at the offensive talent, isn’t all that surprising. That ratio is especially run-heavy considering they also ranked 26th in point differential.

The offense is not suddenly going to transform into the Marc Trestman-era Bears with Geno Smith dropping back to pass 600 times, but it’s also unlikely to stay with the same run-first approach. Smith finished the season with a positive Passing NEP last year, but much of that was skewed by a 20-for-25, 358-yard performance in Week 17 against the Dolphins that included 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Prior to Week 17, Smith had a Passing NEP per drop back of -.05, which would have placed him with Zach Mettenberger as the seventh worst passer in the NFL among 43 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs.

Smith has yet to develop into even an average starter, but this move places the most talent around him for the Jets to get a true feel with what his future may hold. If Smith fails to take another step forward, a lack of weapons will not be to blame.

What Will the Future Bring?

Percy Harvin is likely going to be released, even though the Jets have a decent cap situation. As per the stipulation in the trade that brought him over from the Seahawks, the sixth-round pick the Jets traded becomes a fourth-round pick if Harvin is still on the roster in 2015. With Brandon Marshall in the picture (and the fact that Harvin was one of the least efficient wide receivers a year ago, per our metrics), the need for Harvin is certainly reduced.

Under Todd Bowles, and with players like Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, the Jets are still likely to be a defensive team. In past years, New York has tried to make moves to improve the offense, only for them to fail. This isn’t the same Jets' regime, but many of the same checkpoints apply. Brandon Marshall could be a big help to the Jets offense, which is obviously something the Jets did desperately need. This may not be enough to catch the Patriots atop the AFC East, but it's something. For the roster to continue to improve, something isn’t a bad start.