Taking plays off in Minnesota, taking a whole season off in Oakland (2006), creating an unpleasant departure from New England and disgracefully playing for three teams in 2010—these are the clear-cut negative aspects surrounding Moss.
On the flip side, Moss has played at a level surpassed only by the Greatest of All Time, Mr. Jerry Rice himself. He is second to the GOAT in career receiving touchdowns, two mediocre seasons away from being second in career receiving yards and is the sole occupant of the No. 1 slot in single-season receiving TDs with 23 in 2007.
No receiver in the history of the NFL—Rice included—has displayed the combination of size, speed, sure-handedness, intelligence and big play-making abilities like Moss.
That’s why his original moniker of The Freak is so apropos.
Now as a 49er in 2012, how do we synthesize the good and the bad of Randy Moss’s career and translate it into the pros and cons of starting him in SF this season?
Will one outweigh the other, or will we see a version of Moss as of yet unseen throughout his playing days?
For the purposes of this article, let’s convert the good and the bad into the potential pros and cons of starting him in the Niner offense under head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith.
Note: Despite my predilection for cynicism, I’ll place the pros after the cons to ensure we end on a positive note.
Allow me to first say that in no way do I believe Moss is a team killer the way Terrell Owens has operated in seasons past (and the reason his NFL career is over).
Not giving maximum effort on a play here and there (we’ll get to this possibility later) is completely different than publicly ridiculing your quarterback and destroying positive locker room chemistry.
When I state that Moss may have an adverse reaction to the “team” concept, I mean to say that his individual ego might prevent him from being an all-around, team-first player.
Not happily allowing other playmakers to get their opportunities, shying away from playing as an over-the-top decoy in rushing formations and refusing to block on particular plays—so crucial in Harbaugh’s offense—these are just some of the fundamental responsibilities for a 49er wide receiver.
Harbaugh would have to bench (or even cut) Moss if he neglects to fulfill his duties.
While I do not believe that this will occur, it is a legitimate con to ponder nonetheless.
A much more positive spin on starting Moss in 2012 is that he’ll make the receivers around him better.
He’ll teach him the finer points of the wide receiver position, including gaining separation, reading coverages and simply making big-time plays.
Equally important is that Crabtree can now safely and more appropriately occupy the No. 2 position on the football field. Consequently, he’ll often battle the opposing team’s No. 2 and more beatable corner.
All of this translates to Crabs posting a career-year.
Moreover, rookie A.J. Jenkins and third-year man Kyle Williams will also benefit from the presence of such a prolific and revered NFL figure. Moss will facilitate their respective developments.
The aforementioned receivers, Mario Manningham and any other 49er pass-catcher might very well thrive with Moss imposing himself on the gridiron every Sunday.
Alex Smith cannot afford to have any more obstacles to his development.
Related to the first con, this potentially negative aspect regarding Moss entails him developing a poor relationship with Alex Smith, the leader of this team.
That unfortunate development might in turn cause a regression in Smith’s quarterback play.
How would this happen, you might ask.
Constantly demanding the ball could induce Smith to neglect to perform the proper reads across the field. He might be swayed to look in the direction of Moss the majority of the time. This could lead to unnecessary, ill-advised throws and then to interceptions.
Moss might also cut off routes and abandon his responsibilities if he perceives that Smith isn’t passing him the ball enough or is simply incapable. A potentially devastating ramification of this is the cultivation of resentment and ultimately a lack of trust between receiver and quarterback.
No. 11 might then experience a drop in production due to the overall negativity arising from this on-field phenomenon.
For the sake of enthusiasts of the Red and Gold, these behaviors and possibilities more aptly relate to the M.O. of T.O.
There is little evidence of Moss doing this in the past, so it’s difficult seeing it occur in 2012.
Still, it is a possibility worth entertaining when a team is poised for a Super Bowl run and can’t afford any subterfuge or undermining.
If the 6’4’’ Freak resurrects any of his former record-breaking self, Alex Smith will have a wide-open field in which to maneuver.
The mere presence of @DaRealOtisMoss will occupy safeties over top, thereby providing fellow receivers with openings on other areas of the field.
Crabtree, Manningham, Williams, Vernon Davis and any other pass-catcher will have single coverage and better opportunities both underneath and deep.
Smith will be fat and happy in the driver’s seat.
Opposing defenses will at the very least have to respect the threat of Moss. Other playmakers sporting the Red and Gold serve to benefit.
Moss won't be able to take hits like this if he isn't playing with max effort.
Then there might also exist a Randy Moss operating without sufficient heart and desire.
A void in these imperative qualities for the game of football would render Moss as no longer a viable NFL receiver.
Moss has showcased discipline, max effort and impressive physical capabilities thus far in offseason practices, earning the praise of teammates and the coaching staff.
Then again, this evidence pertains to the off and not regular season, without and not with pads and full contact.
The NFL is simply not a game in which one can play at anything less than wholeheartedly—that goes from mid-week film study and practice to game time on Sundays.
Moss took a year off from the game and might not have the desire in him to play at the necessary level.
It is conceivable that he removed himself from the NFL scene to recharge his batteries—both mentally and physically—but the other possibility remains.
The 49er Faithful sincerely hopes it doesn’t.
When the 49ers earned a 30th ranking in red-zone scoring percentage (TDs only) and went 1-for-13 on third downs in the NFC Championship game, Niner fans came to one simple conclusion:
“Damn, do we need a playmaker.”
If and when something close to the 2007 Randy Moss shows up in Game 1 at Lambeau Field and beyond, fans will deem that conclusion as downright libelous.
And salivate at the future prospects of their team’s performance on third downs and inside the 20-yardline.
At 6’4’’, 215 pounds and with leaping abilities and hands that rival any to have ever played the game, Moss will be an invaluable target for Smith and the 49ers offense.
By utilizing Moss’ massive size and breakaway speed, Smith can simply throw it up and feel assured that his receiver will comedown with the football. He’ll know that he has a reliable target in situations that matter most—those being on final downs to move the chains and in scoring opportunities.
Moss can rectify the only areas of relative deficiency on the 13-3 49ers of 2011.
If and when that occurs, expect to see San Francisco in the echelons of top-ranked offenses in the NFL, and perhaps the means for the sixth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.