FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Though he called this "probably my most frustrating year" in the NFL, and though he at times became a polarizing figure in his own locker room, Brandon Marshall made it clear he wants to be back with the Jets next season. He even joked "I'll play for free."
Now the Jets have to decide if the 32-year-old receiver with the declining production and controversial leadership style is worth bringing back, even at that price.
Marshall, of course, believes he is even after one of his least productive seasons - 59 catches for 788 yards and three touchdowns. But his lack of production is only part of his equation. Marshall is due $7.5 million next season -- a bargain for an "elite" receiver, but otherwise a hefty price. And perhaps more importantly, he spent much of this season in the eye of the Jets' locker room storm.
It was Marshall who ignited the "dark cloud" that Darrelle Revis said hung over the Jets all season by getting into an argument with Sheldon Richardson on the sidelines of the Jets' Week 3 blowout loss in Kansas City - an argument that spilled into the postgame locker room. And it was Marshall who reportedly angered many of his teammates with a fiery locker room rant at halftime of the Jets' blowout loss in New England on Christmas Eve.
Marshall seemed to understand his part in the Jets' chaos and admitted he could've done some things differently. But for the most part, he said he had no regrets.
"I think in retrospect I could work on my timing, but I'm totally fine with my approach this year," said the 32-year-old receiver who has now played 11 NFL seasons without reaching the playoffs. "My only motive is to win ball games. I'm tired of watching the playoffs on my couch."
Marshall's motives may be admirable, but it should be clear by now that he'll have to change at least some of his approach if the Jets bring him back next season. Leaders are supposed to make things better in a troubled locker room. Marshall at times made things worse.
The declining numbers and far too many drops only compounded those issues, all of which Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan will be evaluating in the coming months. Marshall is due another $7.5 million next season, which is a bargain for an elite receiver. Of course, the key question is: Is Marshall still "elite"?
"I'm extremely confident that I'm still an elite receiver," Marshall said. "I still demand double coverage. I still demand a lot of attention. I'm still at the level that I can demand that type of respect, that type of coverage."
His production, though, said otherwise.
"The numbers weren't there. That's new for me," Marshall said. "I think that this is a year that most receivers can hang their hat on. Not for me. The bar is set high and it's unacceptable."
Marshall, who said he hopes to play into his late 30s and has no plans to retire any time soon, did admit that part of his "struggle" was the MCL sprain and injured foot he suffered in Week 2, though he tried not to use that as an excuse. He said he came into the season "expecting big things" and was stunned they didn't happen.
"I've been in the league 11 years, never made the playoffs, but I've always been productive," he said. "So this was a new challenge for me: Losing, but not being productive. It was a struggle all year."
Will he get a chance to redeem himself with the Jets? If Bowles and Maccagnan want him back, it might come down to whether Marshall really is willing to accept a pay cut. And though he did say "I'll play for free. My bills are paid," he also made sure to add "I know what I'm worth."
"I think this team knows what I'm worth," Marshall added. "But it's not about the money. I'm good. I just want to win. That's all I want to do is win.