Happy Birthday and Welcome Back, Randy

In an expected story that adds a little spice to the offseason, Randy Moss is looking to make a comeback.  He announced today on a UStream video that, “I wanna play football.”

“Your boy is going to come back here and play some football, so I’m really excited,” Moss added.  “I had some things I had to adjust in my life.”

If Moss is in shape, he could still be a major contributor, but is anyone willing to take the gamble on the receiver who turned 35 today (it was a Birthday Announcement)?  Ironically, 38-year-old Terrell Owens is also working to make a comeback and is currently playing for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League after not getting any takers in the NFL.  (Incidentally, the Wrangles open their season February 25, hosting the Wichita Wild, for those of you that don’t follow the Wranglers closely.)

It’s especially ironic since Moss and Owens are currently tied for second place all time in receiving touchdowns with 153, behind only the incomparable Jerry Rice’s 197.  While neither is likely to get the 44 they need to catch Rice, will one of them get back into the NFL to break the tie?

Moss is 3 years younger than Owens, and didn’t have the injury problem that Owens has worked to rehab from.  Moss is now 5 years removed from perhaps the greatest single season any receiver had, as he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns for the 16-0 Patriots in 2007, his first year with the team.  He followed that season with 1,008 yards in 2008 and 1,264 yards in 2009.  In 2010, he was released by the Patriots and bounced around – spending time with the Titans and Vikings before sitting out last season.

Moss is one of the greatest raw talents to ever play wide receiver, but his announcement raises a few questions:

1 – Can he still play?

We’ll assume that he’s still in shape, since that’s obviously a prerequisite.  He is 35 years old, which is something of a wall for wide receivers.  The list of receivers who have made a major impact after the age of 35 is very short.  I could argue that there is really only one name on that list – Jerry Rice.

Looking at the top 250 highest single season receiving years, in terms of yardage, in NFL history, there are only 3 names that made the list at age 35 or higher.  Irving Fryar had 1,316 yards in 1997 at age 35, and Chris Carter had 1,274 yards in 2000, also at age 35.  Jerry Rice had 1,211 yards in 2002 at age 40, but he is an outlier in just about every category.

Moss is a unique talent, and if he’s in shape, he could definitely still be a threat and potentially add one more name to that short list.  He’s unlikely to come back at 35 and put up 2007-type numbers, but if he can catch for 800-1000 yards and still stretch the field, that has tremendous value.

We won’t truly know the answer until he steps on the field, but the answer is likely a qualified Yes – he could play, although probably not at the level he was at in his early 30s.

2 – Can he benefit a team?

I think there is no doubt that he could still draw double coverage and he’s still 6-foot-4 and still has the exceptional hands that made him one of the best in his prime.  Even if he’s not where he was 2-3 years ago, he can certainly contribute.

In today’s passing game, teams need 3-4 quality receivers, and there aren’t enough good options to go around.  There are definitely teams that could benefit by Moss’ presence, even a 35-year-old Moss at 70-80 percent of what he once was.

Playoff teams like New England, San Francisco and Denver could all use help at receiver, and a whole host of the non-playoff teams could use help, too.

3 – Will anyone roll the dice?

Here’s the tough question.  History says it’s a long shot.  In 2010, coming off a 2009 season where he caught 83 passes for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns, he was released by the Patriots and he was met with a lukewarm response.  He totaled only 313 yards in 2010 in 16 games with 3 different teams, and then he sat out all of 2011.

Part of the reason is for that response is Moss himself.  When he is excited about where he’s at, he is as good as anybody.  When he was languishing in Oakland, it showed on the field.  When he went to New England to play with Brady and Company, he was re-energized and you could see it in his performance, and he lit up Foxboro.  If Moss can find a home that he’s energized to go to, I think he could add one more name to the 35-year-old receivers club.

Unfortunately, there might be only one suitor that meets all of the requirements.  If he doesn’t go to a playoff contender, he is likely to lose interest and that’s not a good recipe for success.  Denver could benefit, but Tebow and the Broncos unconventional offense would probably frustrate Moss more than bring out his brilliance.  San Francisco is a possibility, and with Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, and Frank Gore – that team could go far, but that seems like a gamble that Jim Harbaugh probably won’t make.

And then there’s the Patriots.  He has maintained a good relationship with the team, and with Brady.  He even stopped to visit Bob Kraft on the passing of his wife last summer.  And the Patriots really need a deep threat to stretch defenses and compliment Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  And that would be an interesting offense to watch.

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