ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Just when they finally patched things up, Brandon Marshall and Josh McDaniels are back to square one, and another reconciliation appears farfetched.
McDaniels announced Friday he’s benching Marshall, his Pro Bowl wide receiver, for the team’s pivotal season finale against Kansas City on Sunday.
“Our word for the week has been accountability. And we’re looking to put the 45 guys on the field on Sunday that want to play together, want to help us try to win and qualify for the playoffs,” McDaniels said. “… And anybody that showed any indifference to that, we’ll play without them.
Marshall suggested he couldn’t have played anyway after pulling his right hamstring at practice this week.
In an extraordinary half-hour at Dove Valley, McDaniels insinuated on the podium that Marshall was exaggerating the extent of his injury and was unaccountable to the team. The Pro Bowl receiver responded from his locker by noting McDaniels never played in the NFL and hinting he might be getting called out by his coach because the Broncos’ season is unraveling.
Since a sizzling 6-0 start, the Broncos have gone 2-7.
They’ll try to make the playoffs Sunday without their 100-catch receiver or tight end Tony Scheffler, demoted to the scout team, and maybe minus wide receiver Eddie Royal, who has a head injury.
Marshall was voted to his second straight Pro Bowl on Tuesday after becoming just the fifth wide receiver with three consecutive 100-catch seasons. He spoke Wednesday about how fulfilling it was to bounce back after a tumultuous offseason that included a rocky start to his relationship with McDaniels, who rejected trade requests and demands for a new contract. McDaniels also suspended him for nine days during training camp for insubordination at practice.
Minutes later, Marshall was clutching his right hamstring after pulling up lame on a route and hopping to the sideline.
Marshall said an MRI showed no structural damage, “but when you try to explode and take off, if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.”
He missed Thursday’s practice, and when asked if his star receiver would work out Friday, McDaniels said Marshall would be deactivated for the game and noted it was “a coaching decision,” not an injury issue.”
“There’s a number of players that are going to play on Sunday with things that are much more difficult to deal with than what he has,” McDaniels said, a phrase he repeated three times during his news conference.
“It’s never going to be acceptable while I’m here and while this staff is here and while we’re trying to build our staff with this philosophy. I don’t know if it was acceptable before, but it isn’t going to be now and it never will be. And this isn’t about sending a message, it’s about fielding a team that wants to go out there and win and give us the best opportunity to do that.”
Co-captain Daniel Graham said that while Marshall has been a good teammate this year, McDaniels was doing what was in the team’s best interests.
Marshall said he respected his coach’s decision, but couldn’t play effectively with his tweaked hamstring. He also couldn’t believe McDaniels was questioning his toughness.
“I don’t think coach ever played in the NFL, so for my hamstring to be feeling the way it felt, it’s tough for me to go out there and expect to play at a high level,” Marshall said. “I’ve battled through a whole lot of injuries before. I played the whole year last year with a tear in my hip. So, I don’t think my toughness is in question here.”
Marshall also took offense to the suggestion he wasn’t buying into McDaniels’ program.
“I’m a guy who’s been giving it up a lot for this team,” said Marshall, who has 101 receptions for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns. “I approached this year in a professional manner and I’m going to continue to do that. If he decides to take some personal shots because of the way the season’s unfolding, it’s not my fault. “I’ve made big plays when I’m supposed to.”
What about accountability?
“Well, accountability and injury is different, you know?” Marshall said. “I pulled, well, I wouldn’t say I pulled my hamstring, it’s definitely not that bad, but it’s tough.”
Marshall said he hopes he’s available next week if the Broncos make the playoffs, which would make for an awkward situation given all the accusations flying around Friday.
Are the Broncos laying the groundwork for a separation? Will the sides ever be able to patch up their differences?
Marshall is in the final year of a contract that pays him $2.2 million this season. His earnings power might be limited this offseason if there’s no new collective bargaining agreement, leaving him as a restricted free agent. That means the Broncos could offer only a modest raise of about $1 million — providing they want to keep him.
McDaniels said he didn’t know if contractual issues were at the root of his latest dustup with Marshall, but suggested the receiver was putting selfish interests ahead of the team’s.
Asked if Marshall will even be in the stadium Sunday, McDaniels said: “I don’t know.”
Was this the last straw?
“Anything I do moving forward is going to be in a professional manner,” Marshall said. “I’m not going to get into any he said/she said like we’ve done in the past. I think that’s childish, and like I said, I don’t think there’s any question about my toughness, the way I play the game. It could be first-and-10 and if I gain 15 yards, I’m still fighting for 16 yards.”