Sizing up the Moss market: Which teams make the most sense
At 35, Randy Moss wants to return to the NFL after missing last season
He'll have to wait until training camps and likely even longer to get serious offer
Five teams make more sense than others as possible suitors for wideout
So let me get this straight: The guy who once said he plays when he wants to play wants to play again? Ah, but it takes somebody to want him to play for them, and that's where Randy Moss's big 35th birthday un-retirement announcement on Monday comes out sounding like the proverbial one-sided conversation at the moment.
If three teams were willing to give up on him in the span of about three months in the 2010 regular season, and no one managed to lure him out of retirement at any point during 2011, why is it exactly that there would be much of a need for his services now, when he's that much further down the road and offers less certainty and potential value than ever? What am I missing?
That's not to say Moss may not have something left in the tank and may be able to make a contribution of some sort to somebody's passing game in 2012. We've seen what a Moss with renewed motivation can do before (in New England, circa 2007), and that player helped break a few NFL records. If Moss can convince a team that his body is still whole and his head is in the right place -- two sizable ifs -- a comeback route might be there for the running this season.
Absence does make the heart grow fonder, and Moss clearly missed the game last season. But did the game miss him? He'll need to find a team willing to take another chance on him, when the last three teams he was with all decided his downside outweighed his upside (actually, four teams if you count Oakland giving him away to the Patriots in April 2007, and of course, Minnesota trading him initially in early 2005). That's a trend that's hard to reverse once it becomes the accepted narrative about a player in the NFL.
Moss taking to a live video chat with his fans, saying he's ready for the NFL again, isn't the same as the NFL saying it's ready for Moss again. Time will tell us if there's still a market for his services, and mid-February is not when that market will develop. For that matter, Moss's next team might not reveal itself even by mid-July. He could easily have to wait until training camp -- or longer -- to get a serious offer from some club in need of a veteran pass-catcher.
"I wanna play football,'' Moss said Monday, via USTREAM. "Your boy is going to come back here and play some football, so I'm really excited. I had some things I had to adjust in my life.''
Chances are, one of the things Moss had to "adjust'' in his life was his expectation level and the reality of where he fits into the grand scheme of things from an NFL perspective at this point in his life/career. He's a future Hall of Famer who can rightfully claim to have changed the game, but all you need to know regarding how much he devalued his reputation and damaged his marketability in 2010 is this:
The Patriots last season could have signed him for a song, and they knew he was telling his former New England teammates that the only team he would play for again was the Pats and coach Bill Belichick. New England briefly mulled over the move, then went out and traded fifth- and sixth-round picks to Cincinnati for Chad Ochocinco, who wound up catching all of 16 passes in 17 games. Moss could have topped those numbers with his eyes closed, running routes by sound only, but it's telling that the Patriots still thought Ochocinco was an investment worth making and Moss wasn't.
Moss as a Patriot in 2010 basically talked his way out of town, complaining about his lack of a long-term contract in a press conference, battling with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien at halftime of his final game with New England, in Week 4 of that season, and reportedly taxing the patience of quarterback Tom Brady with his constant need for game plan targeting and star-treatment coddling. Brady was growing weary of having to worry about keeping Moss's mood ring a happy color, and Belichick responded by removing that concern from his QB's daily checklist.
Those are the kind of margin notes you don't want on your resume in the NFL, but Moss has those negatives and more from his tumultuous 2010, including his suggestion to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf that head coach Brad Childress be fired (which eventually was taken), and his near-invisible eight-game performance in Tennessee (six catches for 80 yards).
Those are the most recent memories we have of Moss, and those are the images he has to overcome to find a team willing to give him another chance in the league. In his own small way, Moss helped Brett Favre, Childress and Titans head coach Jeff Fisher all leave the league after the 2010 season, as did he.
Here are five teams that make some sense to me as potential suitors for Moss this year, if not now, then perhaps this summer. I'll give you a reason or two why it might work, and another why it won't:
1. San Francisco
Why it works: We all know Moss plays better and harder when he's with a team that has legitimate Super Bowl chances. It's the way he's wired. The 49ers made the NFC title game last season, and they probably would have won it if they had any kind of threat at receiver. San Francisco got all of one completion for three yards from their wide receivers against the Giants, even though the game went well into overtime.
Why it doesn't work: You get the feeling 49ers tightly-wound head coach Jim Harbaugh would not abide by players who aren't 100 percent committed team-first guys above all else. I think it's fair to say that at points during his long and successful NFL career, Moss has not been a 100 percent committed team-first guy. And yes, I went for understatement with that last line.
2. New Orleans
Why it works: Again, the Saints are Super Bowl contenders, so that helps on the keeping-Moss-motivated front. And playing with Drew Brees and for Sean Payton might be about as close as it gets to his beloved New England experience for Moss. If the Saints lose big-play receiver Marques Colston in free agency, you could at least see New Orleans considering a roll of the dice on Moss and his field-stretching talents.
Why it doesn't work: Brees is every bit as instrumental to what New Orleans does as Brady is in New England, and I'm skeptical that he'd welcome Moss with open arms and give the move a stamp of approval after seeing how things ended with Moss and the Patriots. Again, this is where Moss's track record for a me-first approach and disinterested effort level could come back to haunt him, closing a door before it even opens.
3. New England
Why it works: The Patriots and Belichick are willing to bring players back to town, as they've done in recent years with Deion Branch, Tully Banta-Cain, and others. Brady and Moss are still friends, and even last season No. 12 said he'd be open to Moss returning to the club. Belichick still finds ways to praise Moss publicly from time to time, and as the Super Bowl again showed, the Patriots still need a deep-threat receiver who can take the top off a defense. With Bill O'Brien gone, and Josh McDaniels back in the offensive coordinator role, the playcaller Moss thrived under would be back on the job.
Why it doesn't work: It just feels like the Patriots have been there and done that, and long since moved on. They probably got the best out of Moss, and they know it. It wouldn't be 2007 all over again if they gave Moss another shot, even if the results weren't as bad as early 2010 either. New England has two firsts and two seconds in this year's draft, and chances are a long-ball threat comes either via that or in a deep crop of free-agent receivers.
4. New York Jets
Why it works: The Jets and Plaxico Burress are going to part ways in free agency, and New York could use another tall, athletic receiver to target in the red zone. Burress caught eight touchdown passes in 2011, and that production has to be made up for somewhere. Signing Moss also keeps him away from the hated Patriots, and New York might view it as a wise pre-emptive move. The Jets could reason they're either going to be playing against Moss, or with him.
Why it doesn't work: Pairing Moss and malcontent Santonio Holmes at receiver? Fourth-year quarterback Mark Sanchez might be the next one to retire. Instantly.
Why it works: The Redskins obviously need more firepower at receiver, and the twin-Moss attack of Randy and Santana (not related) would be a decent start. After all, it feels like win-or-else time in Washington this season, so what does embattled head coach Mike Shanahan have to lose? Moss might not be excited to join the last-place Redskins, but if they're the only team putting on the full-court press, I guess we'll find out just how motivated he is to return to the playing field.
Why it doesn't work: Again, the tandem of Moss and incumbent Washington starting quarterback Rex Grossman just seems like a chemistry experiment waiting to explode. The Redskins are probably going to draft a quarterback as well, but how long until Moss's dedication and commitment start to waver if Washington keeps losing? And after Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb, can Shanahan really invite any more problem players to D.C.?