Line of Scrimmage: Moss far from the big catch of receiver pool

3:30 PM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Leave it to a wide receiver to add a little spice to what's customarily the blandest period of the NFL year.

With all relatively quiet on the Peyton Manning front for the time being, the noisiest piece of news of this post-Super Bowl lull came from Randy Moss' public declaration that he intends to end a one-year retirement and return to football in 2012.

The announcement, made during an unusual video chat on Moss' 35th birthday on Monday in which the once-feared playmaker also expounded on such thought- provoking subjects as bodily waste and picking one's nose in clear view, grabbed headlines as much for its bizarreness as the well-placed timing of taking place in the mundane week after the league's title game.

While Moss' peculiar rant proved he hasn't lost the ability to entertain since his self-imposed hiatus, the bigger question among personnel executives (other than the understandable ones about his personal stability) is whether a player coming off an uninspiring 2010 campaign in which his employers (three) nearly matched his touchdown total (five) and who carries a history of volatile behavior is even worth the risk at an advanced age.

Moss' desire to play for a championship contender will further limit the crop of suitors, but the greatest barrier standing in his way to a comeback may come from an offseason market that's flooded with attractive options at the wide receiver position.

Five members of this year's unrestricted free agent class had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2011, and four of them -- Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Johnson -- will be between 26 and 29 years old next season and in the prime of their careers. Two others -- Reggie Wayne and DeSean Jackson -- have reached the 1,000-yard mark on multiple occasions and were each considerably more productive than Moss was in his disappointing 2010 tour with New England, Minnesota and Tennessee.

With young talents such as Super Bowl XLVI hero Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem and Laurent Robinson also in line for increased roles and salaries, Moss' path back to the NFL may wind up being even bumpier than first thought.

That's not to say there won't be any interest in his services -- remember that Plaxico Burress was able to land a $3 million deal with the New York Jets at a similar age following a 2 1/2-year exile from football -- and Moss isn't the league-wide pariah that the also-unemployed Terrell Owens has become. And although sporadic, Moss did display moments of the game-breaking skills that made him arguably the most dangerous deep threat the league has ever had in his heyday during his most recent season, as three of his five 2010 scores were on passes of 34 yards or more.

Not surprisingly, the New England Patriots have been popularly mentioned as a possible landing spot for Moss, especially after their Super Bowl XLVI loss revealed the absence of a bona fide offensive field stretcher that the mercurial veteran so ably provided during his stellar previous run with the organization.

There's no denying the Patriots haven't quite been the same from a big-play standpoint since Moss' acrimonious departure four games into the 2010 season. Sure, Tom Brady put up the second-highest amount of passing yards in NFL history in leading New England's run to Indianapolis, but only 10 of his 39 touchdown throws (25.6 percent) were from over 20 yards out.

In Moss' last full season with New England in 2009, nearly 43 percent of Brady's scoring strikes (12 of 28) were 20 yards or more.

It's more likely, however, that the 2012 version of Moss will resemble the 2011 edition of Burress -- a factor inside the red zone with minimal impact in the middle of the field. And the Patriots may find a better fit on the market in someone like Brandon Lloyd, four years younger than Moss and someone who flourished in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' system in Denver two years back, when he led the NFL in receiving yards and averaged nearly 19 yards per catch.

The Jets and Philadelphia also have been brought up as potential destinations, in part because both flirted with the idea of signing Moss last summer. New York doesn't seem to be an ideal match, as a reputed malcontent would figure to be at the bottom of the wish list of a team that just had a promising season derailed by toxic locker-room chemistry needs, but the Eagles would make some sense considering their need for a proven weapon within the red zone, an area where the slightly built DeSean Jackson has often been neutralized.

Jackson's name also has been in the news of late, with the Philadelphia Inquirer reporting over the weekend that the team intends to place the franchise tag on the speed demon. It's probably the Eagles' best course of action as well, with such a maneuver allowing the organization to keep dangling the carrot to a player with injury concerns whose main motivation has been securing a long-term contract. And heading into a season that's been clearly earmarked as a boom-or-bust one for head coach Andy Reid and his staff, it's also a move that would help ease the transition for the extensive overhaul that would take place if the Eagles again fail to meet expectations.

Don't be shocked if a few other teams utilize that same strategy, as this year's franchise tender for wide receivers is expected to be around $9.5 million, significantly less restrictive than the 2011 number of $11.4 million. Bowe and Johnson would be logical candidates to be tagged if their respective teams aren't able to reach a multi-year pact prior to free agency, as would Moss' former New England teammate, Wes Welker.

One receiver who's almost certain to hit the market is Vincent Jackson. Since the San Diego standout was franchised by the Chargers last season, the team would be obligated to pay him 120 percent of his 2011 salary, which would come to a prohibitive $13.68 million, and the Bolts may not have the available cap space to match what the 29-year-old standout would command as arguably the top receiver of this year's free-agent group. With the 2012 class so deep at wideout, it's more likely general manager A.J. Smith explores a cheaper alternative while concentrating on filling holes along the offensive line.

Another name to watch on the free-agent front could be Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace. Though the fleet-footed receiver is only eligible for restricted free agency with just three years of service, the Steelers have major cap problems and could conceivably lack the resources to match a competing offer if unable to lock him up to a long-term deal. The new collective bargaining agreement instituted after last summer's lockout has given teams more incentive to pursue RFA's, with the maximum compensation having been reduced from a first- and third-round draft pick to solely a first.

EXTRA POINTS

It's now been seven years since a team has repeated as Super Bowl champion, and early indications suggest the public believes that streak will continue. According to RJ Bell at Pregame.com, the New York Giants opened at 13-1 odds to capture a second straight Lombardi Trophy, which stands behind seven teams on the initial line. Green Bay tops the chart at 5-1, followed by New Orleans (6-1) and New England (8-1). Philadelphia, which finished a game back of Big Blue in the NFC East, is tied with Baltimore and Pittsburgh for fourth on the list at 12-1.

Pregame.com also gives Manning a 14 percent chance of returning to the Colts for next season, with Miami (20 percent) or Washington (17 percent) viewed as the legendary quarterback's most logical destination, as well as a 20 percent chance of retiring. It's hard to buy the Redskins as a legitimate suitor, however. Being forced to go head-to-head with his brother twice a season would be uncomfortable enough, but Manning's not going to want any part of the inevitable power struggle that would ensue between he and fellow control-freak Mike Shanahan over offensive philosophy.

Though I've never been much of a fan of Whitney Houston's record, her performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXV more than 20 years ago is still the best rendition I've ever heard. What an amazing talent.

Do the right thing, Hines Ward. There's no sense in tarnishing your legacy by hanging on another year as a bit player with another team, especially with two Super Bowl rings already in the jewelry case. Ask Franco Harris how much he cherishes that year he spent with the Seattle Seahawks.

Early prediction for the 2012 season opener: Steelers at Giants. Though the league has been reluctant to kick things off with an interconference match-up since it first began designating the reigning Super Bowl winner to host its lid-lifter in 2004, with Saints-Colts in '07 the lone clash involving both an AFC and NFC representative, the tradition, popularity and recent success of these two franchises would make this an awfully tantalizing first game.

The Packers at Giants is a distinct possibility as well, as that would pit the last two Super Bowl champs in a season opener for the second straight year.

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