With the first week of the season in the books, two of those players are unemployed while the third helped lead his team to victory against one of the top teams in the NFL. Now, show of hands: how many of you thought Moss would be the exception?
Not many? Thought not. Moss retired after a season where three teams passed him around like a bad cold. Discarded in New England, unwanted in Minnesota and ineffective in Tennessee, Moss looked well past his prime and toxic to boot.
So how did Moss catch on with the San Francisco 49ers, a legitimate Super Bowl contender already boasting a deep pool of talented, younger receivers while Johnson and Owens cleaned out their respective lockers?
Part of the answer is in the question itself. The 49ers barely missed punching their ticket for Indianapolis last year, and Moss always played his best on competitive teams. He reserved his most brilliant play for those first few years in Minnesota and New England.
But the prospect of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy doesn’t solely account for Moss’ continued employment.
The NFL is jokingly called “Not For Long” for a reason. With over 300 new prospects entering the league each year, veterans like Moss, Owens and Johnson must either bring something to the table a rookie cannot. Youthful athleticism can’t last forever, after all.
This is what Moss’ contemporaries failed to grasp. Moss learned the value of discipline playing for/with perfectionists like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, a trait Johnson never picked up during his stint in New England.
Moss doesn’t stretch the field like he used to, but he compensates with precise route running and solid fundamentals honed over 13 seasons as a professional football player. His touchdown reception against Green Bay provides a perfect example. Moss took advantage of shallow coverage and split the defenders on a deep slant for six points.
That discipline extends to his performance off the field. While Owens and Johnson both provided distractions with their complaints and legal issues, Moss assumed a leadership role among the 49ers' junior wideouts. Rather than making this year about a Randy Moss “swan song”, he’s been a consummate teammate, imparting wisdom and advice that can’t be found in a playbook or orientation pamphlet.
With the three-ring circus atmosphere that surrounds Johnson and Owens, that type of selflessness isn’t likely to manifest anytime soon.
If San Francisco starts to tank as the season progresses, 49ers fans might regress into the player that wore out his welcome in Oakland. But given their recent victory against the Packers, the 49ers might have found the biggest free-agent steal of the year.
And so long as Moss continues to make this season about the team rather than himself, he just might get that elusive Super Bowl ring.