Randy Moss's lack of productivity on the field may be the least of the problems facing the Vikings' star wideout
Vikings wideout Randy Moss capped the worst week of his tumultuous five-year NFL career on Sunday with the worst game of his life, dropping or misjudging four catchable passes in the end zone during the third quarter of a 48-23 loss to the Seahawks. But Moss, the most notorious motorist in the Twin Cities in the wake of his Sept. 24 arrest for allegedly bumping a traffic-control officer with his Lexus sedan, may have even more serious matters to deal with.
According to a Vikings source, Moss was a mandatory participant in the NFL's drug-testing program before police arrested him for the traffic incident and found a small amount of marijuana in his car during the ensuing search. (As of Monday, no drug charges had been filed.) A player in the NFL drug program has to submit to as many as 10 random tests each month, and Moss told coach Mike Tice that he was tested by the league two days before his arrest; the first violation of the program's terms can trigger a four-game suspension. What's more, according to Moss's contract, a copy of which was obtained by SI, he would have to refund a portion of his $18 million signing bonus if he "fails or refuses to practice or play with Club at any time for any reason including player's suspension by the NFL or Club." That could cost Moss $8.75 million if he is suspended this season, $7.5 million in 2003 and a diminishing amount in each remaining year of the eight-year, $75 million deal he signed before the 2001 season.
After the game on Sunday, when asked if he was worried about receiving a four-game league suspension, Moss said no and declined further comment.
A team suspension was one of the options weighed by Tice as Moss sat in a Hennepin County Jail cell last week awaiting charges. Tice, a Vikings assistant for six years who became coach last January, told SI, "This is Randy's first real challenge to authority since I've been coach, and everyone's looking to me to see how I'll handle it. I'm going to be tough." Shortly thereafter, however, Moss was charged with two misdemeanors (careless driving and failure to obey a traffic officer), and the league told Minnesota that even if it suspended Moss, he could file a grievance with the NFL Players Association and would likely have the suspension lifted.
So Tice fined Moss some $48,000—one game check plus fines for being late to practice and for missing a weightlifting session—and demanded that Moss apologize to the team and fans. "I know people are saying I'm a candy ass for not trying to suspend him," Tice said on Sunday. "If the changes had been felonies, I'd have suspended him. And I had players coming to me saying, 'Don't penalize us over a traffic ticket.' "
The way Moss and the 0-4 Vikings played on Sunday was a crime. In this wreck of a season Minnesota laid its biggest egg since getting drilled by the Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship Game. The Vikings fell behind 45-10 in the second quarter, giving up four Seattle touchdowns in a 1:47 span. Moss had six catches and almost as many drops. "Hell, no, I ain't never had a game like that, not junior high, high school or college," Moss said good-naturedly at his locker after the game. "It irks my soul to perform like that."
Just how much of a distraction was the Moss incident for the team? Consider that when he called Tice from jail, the coach left the Tuesday-night game-planning session. Unsuccessful in his effort to spring Moss, Tice returned a couple of hours later and told his staff that it should plan on playing the Seahawks without its No. 1 wideout. The coaches worked until 2:30 a.m. drawing up a new game plan, only to have Moss walk into practice on Wednesday afternoon.
With Moss averaging a meager 8.7 yards per catch—he averaged 19.0, 177, 18.7 and 15.0 in his first four seasons-Minnesota's game-planning has been troubled all season. Tice's announced intent to get the ball to Moss on 40% of the team's pass attempts has made it easier for defensive coordinators to scheme against the Vikings, sliding a safety over the top of Moss on every conceivable passing down. "If you announce what you're doing, every defensive coordinator in the league says, 'Thank you very much,' " former Cowboys All-Pro receiver Michael Irvin said last week.
Fans at Seahawks Stadium booed loudly every time the ball was thrown in Moss's direction. "I heard the boos," he said. "The more I dropped, the more I got down on myself."