NFL Free Agency: The Curious Case of Randy Moss

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 19:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets defends against Randy Moss #81 of the New England Patriots during their  game on September 19, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium  in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Randy Moss tallied 954 receptions, 14,858 yards and 153 touchdowns during his 13 NFL seasons prior to retiring last year. Upon his retirement, Moss was fifth all time in receiving yards, second only to Jerry Rice in touchdown receptions and tied with Hines Ward for eighth overall in receptions.

After a year removed from the NFL, Moss, at 35 years of age, announced that he would be returning to the game shortly after the Super Bowl.

Considering that Moss couldn't find a team willing to take him on prior to last season, the fact that he was let go by two teams during his last season, as well as the general skepticism which comes when players make comebacks at an elderly age, I was first in line of those who questioned his ability to return.

He may be a certainty to make the Hall of Fame one day, but Moss had a lot of baggage during his NFL career.

Baggage was ultimately what brought an end to Moss' career. He couldn't cope with the prospect of not being re-signed in New England, which prevented him from performing on the field during the final year of his deal. It also led to some peculiar moments off-the-field.

Moss was quickly traded from the Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings before being cut and finding his way to the Tennessee Titans. He was mostly irrelevant in Tennessee, with six receptions for 80 yards in eight games. Very un-Moss-like numbers.

For those reasons, many people believe Moss will just be the next Tiki Barber or Plaxico Burress. Barber and Burress made similar comebacks last year, to little or no effect. Barber never found a team, while Burress had an underwhelming season in New York. For different reasons, both players had much more to overcome than Moss does.

Barber had been out of the NFL for five years and was a 36-year-old returning to one of the most physically demanding positions in the NFL, running back. Burress, who was never close to Moss' level, had spent 20 months in prison prior to his return at 34 years of age.

Moss essentially only missed one season without any limitations to his ability to stay in shape and practice on a regular basis.

For that reason, it is no surprise that Moss reportedly impressed during a recent workout with the New Orleans Saints. Throughout his career, Moss was a physical specimen with the outrageous ability to dominate defenders, whether it be in single or double coverage. After supposedly running a 4.39/4.40-econd 40-yard sprint, and still standing at 6'4", Moss' physical talents are still there.

That is no surprise either, because prior to his final season, which was full of turmoil and limitations that were results of lack of effort rather than physical deterioration, Moss was still one of the best receivers in the NFL.

In the 2009 season, his last full season as a Patriot, Moss caught 83 passes for 1,264 receptions and 13 touchdowns. Even without Brady under center the previous season, as he missed a year with a torn ACL, Moss still eclipsed 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns.

Moss, when motivated, is one of the few players in the NFL who can change the whole complexion of a game by simply being on the field. His presence forces defenses to adjust their scheme and removes areas of their playbook completely.

Because Moss was so physically gifted in his prime, so much so that only Calvin Johnson could compare in today's NFL, whatever drop-off in his physical abilities that has occurred over the past two years will likely not be substantial enough to hinder his play on the field.

Along with his physical gifts, Moss' talent as a receiver was enough to make him the NFL record holder for touchdowns in a single season ahead of the great Jerry Rice. Simply being quick and tall doesn't make a great receiver. While Moss isn't the greatest of route runners (in fact, he runs a very limited section of the whole route tree), his natural hands and abilities to adjust to the ball in the air make it almost impossible for any cornerback to cover him one-on-one.

Moss is not Rice, but he is the closest thing anyone has seen to Rice in recent times. Rice never had the natural talent of Moss, but he outworked everyone which allowed him to perform into his late 30s. Physical deterioration prevented Rice from dominating late in his career, but Moss won't have that issue because of his superior gifts and his role, which limits the punishment on his body.

Only two question marks hang over Moss' return to the NFL. The first is simple, will any team want him?

Considering that the Saints have already shown interest, and were apparently very impressed with his workout, there should be teams interested in Moss. Some teams even approached him during last season to try and talk him out of retirement.

Finding a consistent deep threat who consistently gets in the end-zone is a difficult feat for NFL teams. Veteran teams with strong armed quarterbacks, such as the New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Chicago Bears could all make use of Moss' talents.

With teams likely willing to sign him, the other question mark is whether Moss will be willing to play properly?

Moss has no need for money; he has made a lot of that after an illustrious career. The only sensible reasoning for him to be returning to football is because he missed it. A year away from something you love often makes you appreciate it much more. I can't imagine Moss sat at home watching the Super Bowl in February not itching to think what could have been as his former teammates competed in the game.

Much worse, he probably felt like he could have made the difference in that game, as the Patriots came so close to winning Bill Belichick's fourth Super Bowl as a head coach and sixth overall.

It is that desire, and likely a motivation to make everyone forget about his last NFL season, that has likely made Moss willing to play for no guaranteed money.

If you are guaranteeing Moss nothing financially, and he is indeed returning with his mental state intact with a desire to prove himself once again to the NFL, he could explode next year in the NFL.

For that very reason, Moss is the most interesting free agent in the NFL this offseason.