This is the first chance I've had to write at any length about the Rams and Randy Moss since news broke of his bewildering release from the Vikings. However, the topic has nearly taken over my Twitter stream over the past 36 hours. As I sit here and try to sort through the blizzard of thoughts, rumors, and speculations, a few key themes keep bubbling up, similar to those when it appeared Vincent Jackson was on our radar. And I think KMOX's Tom Ackerman put it best:
Which weighs more: Randy Moss's baggage or the Rams' need at WR?
Sentiment among Rams fans, predictably, is all over the place, but I'm firmly in the camp that believes that the Rams -- right now, this team, with this foundation and this success that we've built -- are in a better position now to bring Moss aboard than at any other time. Not only are we well-positioned, but we present an opportunity for Moss to thrive. The obvious question is whether he would be a "fit," but that seemingly innocent three-letter word encompasses everything from scheme to salary to skills to his personality, and to that of his coaches.
Scheme: Could the Rams use him? (Of course)
Clearly, with only three and half healthy wideouts, and (with apologies to Brandon McRae) no one on the practice squad ready to come aboard, the Rams have need of Mr. Moss' services. Not only that, the one thing he does exceptionally well, perhaps better than any player in NFL history (run the "9" route), is a critical hole on the roster.
Pat Shurmur's scheme has room for the deep threat. It's why the Rams took a flyer on Danario Alexander. It's why the team made a contract offer to Vincent Jackson. It was an essential part of the role given to the veteran Mark Clayton. (As Mike Sando noted, Clayton still ranks among the NFL leaders in pass plays traveling at least 30 yards). And in the absence of Danario and Clayton, we've seen the passing attack get steadily shorter and "safer," and a return to eight men in the box against Steven Jackson.
Salary: Is $3.38 million too much?
In a word, "no." The Rams have three home games left, but the cake part of their schedule is gone, the emotional Isaac Bruce retirement ceremony is now past, and as the temperatures drop, the notoriously stadium-shy St Louis fans begin finding reasons not to drive down to the Dome. It's sad, but true.
Those fans who claim self-righteously that they wouldn't buy tickets if Moss joined the team, well, now they have their excuse all written up. But these would be replaced four-fold by new fans who have been waiting for some critical mass of buzz to descend on this team. In little more than a year, a Rams jersey has gone from symbolizing "hope and pray" to "hard work and grit." With the acquisition of Moss, that same jersey would symbolize something more cutthroat, more dangerous, in football terms.
The return on investment in terms of ticket sales and merchandise is relatively straightforward. The next three questions aren't so easy to answer...
Skills: Is Randy still Randy?
This is a tougher question to answer. His ability to make highlight reels is not in question, after his circus catch against the Jets. However, his ability to get open consistently, or his willingness to fight for balls in traffic, may be declining. It begs the question, Why was he traded from the Patriots? I asked die-hard Patriots observer Akshay Anand (@PFF_Akshay) from Pro Football Focus for his take:
Part attitude, part changing philosophy. Only reason we lost to Jets is because Brady tried to force it to Moss.
I'm guessing Moss knew he wouldn't be getting the stats he wanted to get a big payday next offseason, so asked for trade. Also made it so younger guys got less looks. Pats seem to want to revert to more ball control, smashmouth, defense winners... which is how they won 3 SuperBowls anyways.
Lots of reasons Randy wasn't going to work at that point in time, doubt he's back. Needless to say, Moss 2010 is nothing like Moss 2007 or even Moss 2009
This bit of analysis from fellow PFF writer Jonathan Comey underscores Akshay's last statement.
Moss is no longer a safe target for quarterbacks looking to get rid of the ball; if anything, he is becoming more of a risk as time goes on.-- PFF: "Randy Moss: Don't say we didn't warn you"
I don't see attitude as a huge part of this equation (more on this down below). No team is smarter about its roster than the Patriots, and when they saw that they could succeed with a lesser role from Moss (i.e. getting only 6 targets per game), and recognized that he had more value in a trade than on their team, they traded him. It was as simple as that. (Moss's brusque and sometimes bizarre public persona certainly helped the team avoid any blowback from the move, though.)
In terms of declining skill, though, I'm a bit wary of small sample size. I don't think Moss has gotten enough targets this year for us to confidently erode a career of performance, and declare the guy washed up. I choose to believe he has plenty of skill left, and could be a formidable target for a quarterback as accurate, and as bereft of other high-caliber weapons, as Bradford.
Personality: Do we (fans and media) really know Randy Moss?
Media Please Stop Hatin' On Moss
Cliff Ryan is one of the elder statesmen on the Rams, a player that other players seem to naturally gravitate to, and listen to. Anyone watching the sidelines of the Rams' training camp in August could see this for themselves. So when he spoke up, I had to ask: "When a new guy comes on to your team, do you ever care what the media has/hasn't said? Do you care what other NFLers say?" And Ryan was gracious enough to answer:
@RamsHerd most former teammates of Moss that i have played with, speak extremely highly of him.
Then, fellow Rams fan @CGI_Ram joined in: "Do u think the fact Moss is a future HOF has effect on how other players accept him? i.e. who slams a HOF'er?"
@CGI_Ram @RamsHerd players respect guys with a hall of fame stats but also respect & cherish the game, i.e. Issac Bruce & Torry Holt.
So how do these two statements come together? Isn't Randy Moss a boorish punk who plays by his own rules, who dogs it all the time, who is a veritable coach-killer? Don't his games with the media portray the polar opposite of "respect and cherish"? Not necessarily. These are just the stories you've heard and read.
To anyone in the sports business, media types (even amateur bloggy ones like me count) are a necessary evil. No one trusts the media, and with good reason. Most players are extremely well-coached with a verbal form of self-defense that is blank-eyed, consciously false and emotionless. Some are more talented, and become media ninjas, able to go quietly on the offensive. These players cater to the media and tell stories that can be easily repackaged and retold, sometimes anonymously, sometimes on the record. And eventually, they join the horde themselves.
But a guy like Moss can't be either of these types. He seemingly can't be false, and won't allow himself to go blank, nor will he bottle in his emotions. In his attempts at playing the media, or going on the offensive, he's clumsy and raw. What he thinks is a joke is taken seriously, and what he thinks is heartfelt is held up for ridicule.
I think the dichotomy is this: respecting and cherishing the media has nothing to do with respecting and cherishing the game, or with being a good teammate. Is it unprofessional? Yes. Do most other NFLers care? Should we? Probably not.
Coaching: Could Moss and Spagnuolo get along?
Spagnuolo's Four Pillars are often cited, perhaps "team first" most prominently. It's easy to think that begins and ends with the players. But a subtle aspect of Spagnuolo's team-first leadership has become apparent in the last year and a half: He never ever throws a player under the bus. It's a cold-blooded business, and the Rams have been busy rooting out established guys, problem guys, and making some tough decisions involving players' livelihoods. But not once has the coach, before or after one of these cuts, intimated that the guy was anything less than a good teammate or a good man. Not Richie Incognito. When the Rams had to cut him, Spagnuolo all but apologized, and Richie went out of his way to say how much he respected the coach. Not Alex Barron, not Marc Bulger, none of them.
Spagnuolo never kowtows to fan uproar by holding a player's behavior, or performance, up as a shield between himself and his team's performance. And this is a guy who won only one of his first eighteen games as coach. And we can intimate from the level of loyalty that his players show -- past and present -- that he never bullshits his players behind closed doors, or hides from them, or plays mind games with them. He respects them, and demands from them, in that order.
I asked another Rams player about how you get tagged with the label "Clubhouse cancer." His response was simple and to the point: "Usually it's a altercation with a coach that tends to linger on..."
Spagnuolo, like Bill Belichick, doesn't seem to brook much controversy with his own players. You just don't hear about blowups between player and coach with these guys. Do you think it's because these altercations never happen? Or because neither coach will let them linger without resolution? Now compare that sturdiness with Brad Childress, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Mike Tice ... those are the coaches who couldn't handle Moss. I wouldn't want any one of them leading my Rams team.
The Bottom Line
I apologize for this long and rambling post. Of course there are risks in acquiring Moss, as with any player with known "baggage" that parachutes into your team midway through the season. But my bottom-line theory on Moss is that he needs only two things to play like "good Randy," and not "bad Randy:" opportunity (i.e. 10 targets per game), and honesty.
I think he'll get both here. I hope he will. I'd love nothing more than to see redemption writ in blue and gold.