When the Patriots were an ascending team about a decade ago, Bill Belichick nary would mess with a character risk.
Every player he acquired was Boy Scout clean and Belichick, who had been burned with some shady players when he was coach of the Browns, would espouse the virtue of having a high-character team.
Then, in 2004, Belichick traded for Corey Dillon, who had a history of trouble. In 2007, he drafted Brandon Meriweather, who had been involved in controversies, and he acquired reputed malcontent Randy Moss.
What changed? After winning two Super Bowls, Belichick thought the Patriots' locker room was established enough to absorb some players of questionable character.
"Players we bring in can look at our veterans and learn a lot in terms of preparation, work ethic, how to manage their time, how to train," Belichick once told me. "There are a lot of good influences in the locker room."
And so we find Brandon Marshall on the Bears.
The Bears believe they can assimilate a player with issues, as the Patriots did. They are confident Marshall will not have a negative impact.
Why? It starts in the Halas Hall locker room, which has strong leadership and players who are passionate and committed to football. One of those players is Marshall's all-time favorite quarterback.
Sources familiar with the two say there is more than chemistry between Marshall and Jay Cutler -- there is trust and friendship that should serve Marshall well.
The Bears also have a well-respected 30-year coaching veteran who will be responsible for keeping Marshall on point. Darryl Drake should be the right blend of taskmaster and mother hen for Marshall.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice has been down this road before. He could teach a course in diva management given his experiences with Moss on the Vikings.
Players like Marshall need consistency. There is no more consistent head coach than Lovie Smith.
All that being said, it would be naive for the Bears to think Marshall will be a different bird just because he is in their nest. They did their homework on Marshall, talking with several of his former coaches and investigating his past. So while they can't be surprised if his pattern of behavior continues, they can hope their circumstances will bring out the best in him.
Last July, Marshall had a news conference to announce he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and to say he is seeking treatment. Since then, Marshall had not had any known brushes with trouble until an incident Sunday night for which details still are murky.
That is encouraging to the Bears. But what is more so is the fact cornerbacks can't cover the guy.
Let's be honest. You don't knowingly take a risk on a marginal player. You take a risk on a player who can make a difference.
More 911 calls? A potential suspension? That may come with the territory with Marshall. But wait until you see him lay out for one of Cutler's throws.
Marshall is so talented that if he had been clean off the field, he probably would not have been available for any price, let alone two third-round draft picks.
As it stands, a lot of teams never would have considered Marshall, and they shouldn't have. But he might have more value to the Bears than any other team.
The Bears thought the same way about a young defensive tackle in 2004, so then-general manager Jerry Angelo used a second-round pick on Tank Johnson. Some teams said they would not have touched Johnson, a reputed troublemaker. But Johnson was a fine player who fit Smith's defense perfectly. He was a great value and the Bears thought they could manage him. Four brushes with the law later, Johnson was released.
A new team always thinks it can manage a potentially disruptive player better than he had been. Sometimes they are right. Often, they are not.
Angelo's Bears were through with guys like Johnson and Marshall. With Angelo gone, the club apparently is more willing to take a chance on a player it knows might make Smith a better spokesman for aspirin than a nighttime cold medicine.
His acquisition only was possible because the Bears have a solid core. And because Marshall can make Packers and Lions look silly.