Years from now, Brandon Marshall should be remembered for how he grew from getting cut three times by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars to starting linebacker for the Super Bowl-champion Broncos, his 100-plus tackles in three seasons, and his major role as play caller and anchor in the middle of one of the best defensive units in NFL history.
Instead, the lasting legacy from Marshall’s six-year run with the Broncos – which figures to end at home Sunday with the season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers – will be as the guy who kneeled.
“Or they’re going to think I’m the receiver," Marshall said with a smile about the Broncos’ former star receiver with the same name.
He knows his decision to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem before a nationally televised audience in the NFL’s 2016 season opener, followed by similar demonstrations against social injustice the past two years, created an overpowering image.
“I’m fine with it because I think every man, every individual has to make decisions throughout their lives on what they believe in, or what they feel strongly about, what they’re convicted in," Marshall said in a sit-down interview with 9News this week. “And that whole year I was able to go home and sleep peacefully knowing the decisions I made and the risks that I could potentially take on.
“And in hindsight, two years later, I’m fine with that. It hurt me in some ways in terms of sponsorships and maybe my perception around the league or around the organization. But everybody seems to be cool with me. Joe Ellis (the Broncos’ president) is always cool and talks to me and was always all good. I thank Joe Ellis for everything. The other day I thanked him, and he said thank you for being who you are in the community. I think I was able to back it up with some of the stuff I did.
“So, I hope they would remember that but when I get stuff on Twitter, they still hate me for that. Let’s say I miss a tackle. They hate me, because of what I did, when I took a knee. But at the end of the day, man, the people that I love, they’ve got my back."
As a player, Marshall is a success story who surpassed expectations as Jacksonville’s fifth-round draft pick in 2012.
“I didn’t imagine it would go this well," he said. “I will tell you a story. In training camp that year, before I got cut, my grandfather called me, God rest his soul, and he called me and said, ‘Brandon I had a dream that you were in the Super Bowl.’
“I was excited. And then I hung up the phone and realized, ‘’I’m still in Jacksonville."
Waived for the third time by Jacksonville following the preseason in 2013, Marshall had a chance to return the Jaguars’ practice squad, but instead took a chance with the Broncos, even they offered no more than their own practice squad.
It was while playing defense in practice most of that 2013 season against the Broncos’ record-setting offense when Marshall made his mark.
“(Offensive coordinator) Adam Gase told me Peyton Manning was the one who started noticing me," Marshall said. “‘Who’s this ‘54’ kid?’ So, then Adam Gase started coming up to me weekly and was like, “Man you’re doing a helluva job, I’m going to try to get you up on the roster.
“And then he started coming up to me, “I got something for you today,’ almost like they were game planning against me."
Von Miller suffered a torn ACL in the Broncos’ 15th game at Houston, and Marshall got called up to the 53-man roster for the season finale against the Oakland Raiders. Just in time to play in the postseason, including Super Bowl XLVIII in New York.
That game against Seattle was a nightmare, but grandpa’s dream had come true. The Broncos would return to the Super Bowl two years later and with Marshall relaying calls from defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to his teammates, the Denver defense dominated in the postseason, frustrating first Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, then Tom Brady and the Patriots, and finally NFL MVP Cam Newtown and the Carolina Panthers for the world championship.
And then came the decline. What happened to the Broncos who not only failed to defend their Super Bowl title, they haven’t even made the playoffs in the three years since their downtown Denver parade?
“Peyton left," Marshall said. “We had some key guys leave. Brock (Osweiler) was a key guy of the Super Bowl team, no matter what anybody says. Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson, those guys were key guys, right?
“And we were still decent for 2016. We had Wade and we still had that mojo a little bit. We started 4-0 and then we just kind of dipped down. Then, Wade left, different guys left. I just felt like we lost our mojo a little bit. We were still confident. No doubt, everybody still worked hard, but it just wasn’t the same. I don’t know what happened, but that was a magical year, 2015."
After that season, the Broncos were so pleased with Marshall, they gave him a four-year, $32 million contract extension that included a $10 million signing bonus.
But they are not expected to exercise a roster bonus in March that would trigger a $7 million payout for 2019. And so, Marshall knows the game today against the Chargers is likely his last with the Broncos.
“Everybody says focus on the task ahead, and I’m doing that, but at the same time it’s kind of hard to ignore what possibly could happen," Marshall said. “Just how everything has unfolded this year. So, I’m prepared for it to be my last game."
But not the final game of his career. He plans to keep playing.
“Absolutely," he said. “I’m 29. I’ll be 30 in September. I’ve had an injury. Looking on film early in the season, people might think he’s looking a little slow. But really my knee’s been hurting since preseason. A lot of people don’t know it, but I’ve been just pushing through it.
“So, I sat out the five games and I came back and the Browns game I was a little shaky and this last game I felt like I was running well, cutting good, making some decent plays. I still got a lot left in the tank and I know it. Once I get myself right in the offseason, get my knee right, change my performance plan, I think I’ll be fine. Ideally, I’m going to play about three or four more years."
Marshall’s protest against social injustice by taking a knee during the National Anthem didn’t hurt his playing career as much as it did Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. Maybe, it was because Marshall backed up his demonstration by getting out in the community and establishing programs.
“I think (Kaepernick) backed it up as well with all he’s done," Marshall said. “He did a lot of stuff when he donated that money and started the Know Your Rights Camp.
“I think his case is different because he’s a quarterback. He’s a face of a franchise. I think that takes a harder hit. And I think he was on the last year of his contract and they didn’t sign him back. My deal just started.
“Also, I went and talked to the police chief (Denver’s Robert White). I think that helped as well. I’m not sure anybody else who took a knee went to talk to the police. And I just tried to do everything I could because I love our community."
For the season finale, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph is expected to send out his defense for the starting lineup introductions. Rookie linebacker Josey Jewell, who replaced the injured Marshall in the starting lineup at midseason, may stand down so the veteran can get one last run in front of the home crowd.
Not all Broncos fans were happy when Marshall took a knee during the National Anthem. But for a guy who was cut three times by a terrible Jaguars team, Marshall’s playing career in Denver is worth celebrating.