By Derek Lofland, NFL director at FantasyFootballManiaxs.com
Longtime Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss announced through his agent that he was retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons. The news comes as somewhat of a shock, seeing as his agent, Joel Segal, had talked about what “freakish shape” his client was in and that he was looking forward to free agency.
Segal had told Jason La Canfora of NFL Network: “Randy has been working out, two-a-days, all spring and summer in West Virginia.”
That was not in April or May; that was in the middle of July.
What changed in less than a month? Why would a freakish athlete not be able to find employment in the NFL?
This could be one of two things. Owners may not have been buying what Segal was selling and it became evident that Moss was not going to be a NFL-quality receiver.
The Nashville Tennessean's Jim Wyatt has stated that the Titans’ coaching staff thought Moss was "done" as an NFL-caliber receiver late last season.
On the other hand, Moss looked like he was done as a NFL receiver in 2006 when he left the Oakland Raiders and they could do no better than a fourth-round pick for trade compensation. Moss had two Pro Bowl years in New England after that, because he was in a good situation.
It is hard to believe that teams would not invite a player with his talent into camp. New York Jets receiver Plaxico Burress was a head case with the New York Giants and has been out of football since 2008. He still was able to sign a contract based on his past glories. Moss was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and played well at times last year. Moss only plays when he wants to play and if you do not believe it, he will tell you.
The reason he may have had to retire is because of what transpired in Minnesota, New England and Tennessee.
If the Patriots were willing to take a chance on DT Albert Haynesworth after the stunts he pulled in Washington, but thought Moss was not worth the hassle last year, that may have been enough to scare off the other 31 owners.
It is possible that nobody wanted to put up with the antics, that the drama was not worth the production.
It is possible that Moss could sign with a team in midseason if their receiver corps becomes injury depleted. Moss is only 34 years old and it seems odd to believe he cannot play receiver anymore.
If this is really the end for the future Hall of Famer, it will be one of the most bizarre ends to a Hall of Fame career.
In 2009, Moss recorded 83 receptions for 1,264 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdown receptions in New England.
In 2010, he played with three teams. He wore out his welcome in New England after four games, did the same in Minnesota in four games and nobody noticed he played in Tennessee.
While he did record 28 receptions for 393 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, only six receptions for 80 yards (no touchdowns) were in Tennessee.
Moss was a polarizing figure. It took his first Monday Night Football game to become public enemy No. 1 of the Packer Nation, when he recorded five receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
Moss would finish his career with 202 games played, 954 receptions (eighth), 14,858 yards receiving (fifth) and 153 touchdown receptions (second). He was selected to seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro first teams. That should be his legacy and that will be enough to earn a spot in Canton, Ohio.
I think there are going to be two parts to Moss’s legacy. The primary reason he should be remembered for is being the most unstoppable force on the two highest-scoring teams in NFL history.
In 1998, the Minnesota Vikings drafted him with the 21st pick. The Vikings ranked 11th in the league with 354 points scored in 1997 and went 9-7. They added journeyman QB Randall Cunningham and added Moss to a receiving core that included All-Pro receiver Chris Carter. The Vikings set a league record with 556 points scored the next season. Moss was the difference maker with 69 receptions for 1,313 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns. He could change a game with just three catches. They beat the Cowboys that year 46-36 when Moss had only three catches, but they went for 163 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings would tally a 15-1 record, but would lose 30-27 (OT) in the NFC championship game.
While for most players that would be the pinnacle of a career, he accomplished it in his rookie season.
He actually was able to one up that effort in 2007 when he joined a 12-4 New England team that had scored 385 points the year before. Their weakest position was receiver and they added Moss and WR Wes Welker. Moss recorded 98 receptions for 1,493 receiving yards and a NFL-record 23 touchdowns as the Patriots swept the regular season 16-0.
QB Tom Brady won his first AP MVP award with a NFL-record 50 touchdown passes. They would come three points away from completing a perfect season in the Super Bowl, losing to the New York Giants 17-14.
That is an enormous legacy.
Of all the offenses in the history of the NFL, he was the most important and unstoppable skill position player on the two highest-scoring teams in NFL history.
San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice is the best receiver of all-time. There is no debating that. Moss was the most physically gifted. Rice was two inches shorter than Moss, did not possess his lightning speed or his ridiculous vertical.
When Moss was at his best, he completely changed how defenses had to guard him. Teams had to devote an extra safety over the top in fear of giving up free touchdowns down the middle of the field. There was not a cornerback in the NFL who could single-cover Moss, because of his speed and ability to jump for the ball.
Rice changed the way defenses approached the 49ers, but it had more to do with his great route running, hands and work ethic than his leaping ability or speed. He was just more prepared and smarter than his opponent. What it also goes to show is that team success and longevity in the NFL are not about being the most talented. Rice was able to play in the NFL until he was 42 and won three Super Bowl titles, because he was a great player who was devoted to his craft and worked harder than everyone else.
From 1986 to 1996, Rice was the All-Pro first-team receiver every year, except for 1991. Some of that can be attributed to playing with Hall of Fame QBs Joe Montana and Steve Young. A lot of that can be attributed to being the hardest-working player in football.
Moss was someone that often took his ability for granted and often took plays off where he was not the primary target and often disappeared in big games. He never made an All-Pro first team two years in a row.
In the 2000 NFC championship game, he had two receptions for 18 yards. On the two best teams he played for (‘98 Minnesota and ‘07 New England), he had six receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown (‘98 NFC championship) and five receptions for 62 yards and one touchdown (‘07 Super Bowl). Those are not bad numbers, but hardly indicative of those record-breaking seasons. In fact, the last time Moss had a 100-yard game in the playoffs was the divisional round of the 2000 season. He was 23 years old then.
Moss was never blessed with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback until he stepped foot in New England. It is amazing he put up the numbers he did in Minnesota with multiple quarterbacks.
However, he was not blessed with a great work ethic. It caused him to have seasons like 2006, when with the Raiders he had 42 receptions for 553 yards and three touchdowns. It caused him to have an eight-game stretch last season where he had six catches in eight games.
That is not a problem that he developed in 2010 in the twilight of an otherwise unblemished career. That negative attitude defined his entire career and is a reason that his legacy will have two parts, with one being an elite athlete who did not use his talents to his fullest for the majority of his career.
Some people want to pretend that the last season defines a player’s legacy. A legacy is what people remember about you that never watched you play.
When my dad told me who New York Yankees OF Babe Ruth was, he was telling me about a player who he had never watched play. He told me about Ruth calling his home run in the 1932 World Series. He told me about the 60 home runs Ruth hit in 1927. He did not tell me about Ruth being sold to the Boston Braves in 1935 only to hit .181 and retire in May playing for a team that went 38-115.
Moss is not going to be remembered for his eight games as a Titan anymore than Ruth will be remembered as a Brave, Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas will be remembered for being a San Diego Charger or New York Jets QB Joe Namath will be remembered for being a St. Louis Ram. Eight forgettable games will not define Moss’ legacy.
What I do think Moss will be remembered for is being arguably the most talented player at his position that only played hard when he wanted to play hard. In 2001, he famously said: “I play when I want to play."
When he wanted to play, he played the position better than anyone in the history of the National Football League. When he did not, he had very little impact on the game.
He is a Hall of Famer, but I do not see how that will not be talked about when the story of Moss is told to people that never watched him play. It is hard to believe that a receiver that has the second-most touchdown receptions in the history of the NFL could have a “what if” attached to his career. However, you have to wonder if he had the work ethic that Rice had, what numbers could he have put up and how long could his records have stood?
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