Is feeling mutual? Showtime exec wants encore for Brandon Marshall on ‘Inside the NFL’

The door is open if Brandon Marshall wants to return to Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” next year.

However, Stephen Espinoza, the general manager of Showtime Sports, knows Bears new coach John Fox, and perhaps even Marshall himself, might shut that door in 2015.

Marshall took part in a taping Monday in Phoenix for the show’s Super Bowl preview, which airs this week on Showtime. Espinoza raved about the Bears’ receiver work on “Inside the NFL” this year, but can’t be sure there will be an encore.

“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Espinoza told me in an interview. “I know he enjoyed it and learned a lot. But it was work at the same time. The threshold question between Brandon and the team is whether this is something he should entertain again. If they say yes, we’d love to him again.”

The unique set-up had Marshall rising at dawn on most Tuesdays to catch a private plane to New York. There, he would tape that week’s show before returning on a private plane, usually arriving in Chicago in time for dinner.

Espinoza is aware there was criticism of the arrangement in Chicago, especially with the Bears and Marshall having a disappointing season. However, he believes Marshall did not “compromise” on his No. 1 priority, which was being ready for Bears’ next game.

“His health was paramount,” Espinoza said. “We made sure not to infringe on what he needed to do for the Bears.”

Espinoza said he was impressed with Marshall’s commitment to make as many shows as possible. He did miss some shows due to the Bears playing Monday, Thursday and Sunday night games and after suffering a lung and ribs injury in a December game against New Orleans.

“I admit I had my doubts when things got tough and he was struggling with an injury,” Espinoza said. “I expected to get a call saying, ‘Brandon can’t make it this week.’ That call never came. He fulfilled everything we asked of him and more.”

Espinoza thought Marshall’s presence took “Inside the NFL” to another level by using a current player as an analyst. Always outspoken, he wasn’t shy about giving his opinions on touchy issues such as the Ray Rice situation. He also had the tables turned on him by fellow panelists Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms. They once chastised him after a game when he ducked from the media.

“Brandon knew everything was fair game,” Espinoza said. “We knew about Brandon’s personality going in, but could he deliver when the lights are turned on? The answer is a resounding yes. I’ve rarely seen someone in his first year be as natural, likable and substantively good as Brandon.”

Whether it is next year or when he is finished playing, Espinoza hopes he can work with Marshall again at Showtime. However, he knows there will be competition from the other networks.

“Brandon has shown a natural affinity for broadcasting,” Espinoza said. “He is going to have plenty of suitors.”

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