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Brandon Marshall’s past has haunted him, but the Saints offer a new chance at redemption

With a past even more checkered than Dez Bryant’s, Brandon Marshall can bring an important intangible to the Saints locker room...leadership.

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NFL: International Series-Seattle Seahawks Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Marshall has a chance to go to the postseason for the first time in his 13-year career. The wide receiver spot recently vacated by fellow midseason addition Dez Bryant was filled Tuesday by the former Bronco, Dolphin, Bear, Jet, Giant, and Seahawk.

The six-time Pro Bowler has eclipsed 100 catches in a season six times. He’s played in 178 games, gained 12,351 yards on 970 catches, scored 83 touchdowns, and averaged 12.7 yards per catch since entering the league in 2006.

With potentially Hall of Fame numbers like that, it would usually seem unlikely that a player of Marshall’s caliber would be available, especially after having been cut midseason by another NFC team.

The main reason for his sudden availability is that Marshall’s career has been dichotomized between physical dominance on the field and locker room killing distractions ranging from domestic violence and mental health issues to his alleged involvement in the 2007 murder of Broncos cornerback Darren Williams.

The past three seasons for Marshall have been mired by injury. But his first six seasons were mired by significant legal troubles. Most of them occurred off the field and were probably directly related to his history of mental illness. In 2011, Marshall was diagnosed with border line personality disorder.

In 2009, Coach Josh McDaniels suspended Marshall for the rest of a preseason for conduct detrimental to the team. He had a temper tantrum at practice, punted a football away, and batted down footballs in frustration. He was later reinstated.

Compared to his off field incidents which include allegedly punching a woman at a Manhattan nightclub, I could care less about a bitch fit at practice. I don’t expect much from Marshall. I’m not sure the Saints even need much from him to continue being successful. Whether or not Marshall impacts the stat sheet, the most important thing he can bring to this team is leadership.

Marshall has a chance to show the best version of his competitiveness in this Saints locker room. He can’t afford to make selfish or childish statements like when he treated Dez Bryant like Forrest Gump on the bus in his now deleted Instagram post after Bryant expressed interest in joining the Giants. “Sorry baby bro no room. @dezbryant”

Marshall’s first season with the Jets earned him his last Pro Bowl selection, but his second season didn’t go as well. One former teammate, Sheldon Richardson, said back in May that there were “15 reasons” why the team took a step back. The 15 was an implied reference to Marshall’s jersey number.

“Guys didn’t address the situation at hand that needed to be addressed to him, as far as who he was with the media perspective,” said Richardson. “(There) were some things he did, just little things that are drama queenish and he’s dogging out this guy and that guy. It’s everybody else’s fault except his.”

“That man knows what he did to the locker room,” Richardson said. “I was the one who addressed that, and still will address it to this day. If he can’t come out to the media and tell ‘em what he did and how he actually quit on his team way before the season was over, that’s all in itself.”

Marshall’s stop with New York’s other franchise, the Giants, didn’t go much better. But this time a chronic toe injury derailed any chance for Marshall to make any real offensive impact. Then with Seattle, Marshall started off strong but his production and usage dropped dramatically as the season went on. He was released, tried out for the Saints, and then signed after Bryant’s season ending Achilles tear landed him on IR.

In his brilliant op-ed for the Player’s Tribune, Marshall took full credit for his many mistakes. “On the field, I was a Pro Bowl receiver. But off the field, my life was spiraling out of control. I made a lot of headlines for the wrong reasons. Today, I really don’t talk about that stuff very much. I don’t hide from it, because it’s a part of my story. I just don’t focus on it because I don’t find that to be productive. My life is about today and how I can help people moving forward.”

Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll noticed Marshall’s leadership skills during his half season with the Seahawks. “Through watching his play, you knew that he has a real wide range of stuff that he can call on. I didn’t know if he would verbalize it and articulate it real well. He does beautifully,” Carroll said. “He has a willingness, too. He’s real open -- real easy guy to deal with in asking questions and stuff like that. So, he’s been great.”

Marshall doesn’t want us to forget his transgressions, but he does want fans to focus on the positive changes he’s made both for himself and for others as well. He and his wife Michi founded Project 375. By raising awareness and implementing training, the organization is dedicated to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health.

“So if you want to get into stuff that happened years ago — the headlines, all the bad stuff — you can Google it. It’s all out there. The point I want to make is that I’m still the same exact person today that I was back then. I still have the same feelings and emotions. The only difference is that now, I know how to deal with my emotions the right way.”

“I always say that football is my platform, not my purpose. I believe my purpose is to serve as an example for people who are suffering from mental illness — to show them that it’s O.K. to seek help.”

Marshall has become the league’s leading voice in advocating for mental health awareness. He addressed the league owners at their annual meeting. Giants owner John Mara was visibly moved by Marshall’s presentation.

“You could’ve heard a pin drop in the room,” Mara told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview. “The way Brandon was so frank and direct about his mental health issues in his life resonated with everyone in the room. He immediately helped humanize players more, which helped articulate that this business is about more than football or making money.

“Of all the presentations at the owners (meetings), his stood out the most. In 15 minutes, he raised our consciousness to the reality of an issue. But (mental health) is also something people don’t talk about in society. So I think Brandon has already been influential, but now the entire league can take a big step in not promoting looking the other way or pushing (mental health) away.”

Since disclosing his borderline personality disorder in 2011, Marshall said, players and other folks have been coming “out of the woodwork” to thank him for sharing his story and helping them come to terms with their own mental health issues.

I think this may be one of the most mentally stable Saints locker rooms in recent memory. But since one of every five people suffer from mental health issues, it’s not far fetched to think that as many as 10 people in this current locker room may be dealing with their own issues right now. Marshall’s presence could help his teammates in much more important ways than by just catching footballs.

He can share his experience, his ups and downs, and the tools he has learned to function at a high level while still playing with joy.

“It’s a lot of preventative work,” Marshall says. “I know when my most stressful times are, and so I plan for it. During the season, it’s very stressful. So I have to be proactive. BPD can be different from one person to the next. For me, I don’t use medication. I consult my doctor on FaceTime or Skype when needed. I meditate. I use my Christian faith to hold me accountable.”

“Well, we can do that — by being honest and vulnerable,” he says. “This is America’s sport, so whenever we’re able to take our masks off — to 90 million people, avid football fans — it provides the ability to move culture.”

After only two days in this locker room, Dez Bryant made such an impact that multiple teammates threw up the “X” to honor him after scoring against the Bengals. Just think what kind of impact Marshall can make as a 13 year veteran who has never been to the postseason. He’s smart, articulate, passionate, and still impressive even at the age of 35.

After playing for six other teams, Marshall has to know this is his best chance to not only see the post season, but play deep into it. With quality team leaders like Drew Brees, Ben Watson, Cam Jordan, and Mark Ingram, Marshall doesn’t have to be the team guru. He can be himself and have fun. This team knows when to have fun and when to get serious.

And I don’t think Marshall will ever have a more catchable ball thrown to him than from Drew Brees. If he comes to work hard and fit in without showing out, only good things can happen with this signing.