The Waste Land of Randy Moss
He's left too much scorched earth behind him to merit another chance in the NFL
There's a line from the Robert DeNiro movie "A Bronx Tale" that I've never forgotten.
In the movie, DeNiro, as Lorenzo, tells his sometimes-troubled teenage son Calogero, "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent."
If Randy Moss understood that, he'd be the greatest football player ever.
For plenty of years, Moss was the most electric and talented player in the NFL. But there were also some years -- especially recently -- when it was simply frustrating to watch him because he seemed to be thoughtlessly squandering his unparalleled abilities.
So as much as I'd like to be enthused about the best deep threat in NFL history announcing on Monday, his 35th birthday, that he is ready to return to the NFL, my optimism is being doused by Moss' complicated history.
"I wanna play football," Moss said on a Ustream video. "Your boy is going to come back here and play some football, so I'm really excited. I had some things I had to adjust in my life. Faith, family, and football, that's my MO, bro."
Only, he forgot to mention a fourth "F."
The easy assumption is that Moss is motivated to return to try to erase the memory of 2010, the most embarrassing season of his 13-year career. (Which is saying something considering his pathetic time in Oakland in 2005 and '06.)
When Moss made his "un-retirement" official, he talked about his love for the game and explained that now that some family issues are settled, he feels free to resume his football career.
But the painfully obvious arch in Moss' phenomenal career is that his desire and effort are purely situational.
The reason he has to beg his way back into the NFL right now, for example, is because when he was in New England in 2010, his mouth finally wrote a check that his overwhelming talent couldn't cash.
Moss scored 23 touchdowns in 2007 -- a single-season record -- but they didn't give him as much leeway with the Patriots as he apparently thought they should. By 2010, he was irritating New England's front office with contract demands, and during one early-season game that year, reportedly had a halftime blowup with then-offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. After four games, the Patriots traded him to Minnesota, where he lasted only another four games before he was released.
It's one thing to quit on the dysfunctional Raiders, as Moss pretty clearly did with his lackluster play in 2006 in an effort to get out. I didn't take much issue with his attitude back then because he was in such a toxic environment. But being disruptive in New England? That was a lost cause.
Moss spent the end of the 2010 season with the Titans, but he did absolutely nothing in Tennessee and finished that year with a career-low 28 catches for 393 yards. His five touchdowns were the second-lowest output of his time in the league.
There is a temptation to believe that 2010 was another example of Moss playing possum. In Oakland, the year before his record-setting 2007 season with the Patriots, he scored just three touchdowns, and it looked as if his legendary speed was gone.
But this time is different. If you watched Moss at all in 2010, he wasn't just listless. He looked more ordinary than at any point in his career.
ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter, who was teammates with Moss during his glory years with the Vikings, said Moss can still run a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash. If he were 25, some team might be able to justify giving him a deal and be comforted by years of potential upside and the possibility he might one day mature. And even though Carter praised his conditioning, he also readily admitted that Moss' overwhelming athleticism doesn't completely mask his most damaging trait.
"He has more 'quit' in him than any other superstar I've ever met," he said Tuesday morning on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike show.
No franchise should want a 35-year-old wide receiver who can't seem to resist eventually poisoning his relationship with any team he's on.
On the surface, maybe San Francisco, Chicago or New England (again) might seem like possible fits. All three of those teams are in need of an elite receiver, and nobody in NFL history has stretched the field like Moss once did.
But one of the reasons the Patriots and 49ers were successful this season -- as the Bears were, too, until Jay Cutler suffered a season-ending thumb injury -- is their special team chemistry. Adding Moss to the mix could upset that.
I'm not naive. In sports, talent often overrides even the biggest red flags. So it makes at least some sense that teams might want to see what Moss has left. His career numbers are so absurd that he'll always be a tantalizing prospect -- he ranks in the top five in NFL history in receiving yards with 14,858, and he's second all time in receiving TDs (153, tied with Terrell Owens) and 100-yard receiving games (64).
But let's keep in mind that Moss abruptly retired last year because no one was interested in signing a player with situational dedication.
So why should anyone be less reluctant to sign him now?
Of course, looking at how unproductive Chad Ochocinco was with the Patriots this past season, even I acknowledge that Moss probably could have done better than the one touchdown Ochocinco scored. T.O., too, for that matter.
But although Moss claimed on Ustream that he doesn't have to be a No. 1 receiver for a new team this fall, it's difficult to buy that, in a matter of months, he's been transformed into a totally selfless player, that he's overcome his chronic propensity to self-destruct. Playing with the Patriots was Moss' opportunity to change his reputation; and for a time, it worked. But in the end, he reinforced every negative perception he'd established leading up to his time in New England. As much as he'd probably like to undo what happened with the Pats, he can't.
I'm not saying that Moss can't play. It's just unlikely that he can duplicate the statistics he put up with the Patriots. And if he's just another receiver, he isn't worth the risk.
Regardless of whether a team gives him another chance, Moss' place in history is assured. But his place in the NFL right now shouldn't be.
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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