Okay, so I can admit when I’m wrong. It’s the first in a long history of sports writing hiccups, I hope. If I’m still claiming that the 49ers won’t sign someone that they do end up signing fifteen years from now, that will mean that I’m still in the sports writing business – so I’ll take it.
But I digress – the 49ers signed Randy Moss to a 1 year deal Monday night. The financial details of the contract have yet to be disclosed, but it’s safe to assume that it’s somewhere around what Braylon Edwards got last year - $1M plus a couple million extra in lofty incentives. At this point in Moss’s career, it isn’t about money though. The last two years in the NFL have been rough on Moss. After being cut by the Patriots he bounced to the Vikings and Titans, where he fell into obscurity and then eventually off of the map completely. He spent a year away from football, and after a reportedly impressive work out with the Saints and (I’m assuming) an impressive one with the 49ers, He’s back – this time in the red and gold. He won’t be playing for a paycheck; he’ll be playing to save face and reassemble his reputation.
Questioning the move
Raiders fans will scoff and chuckle. Parody Twitter accounts will make jokes about Alex Smith’s arm strength. But several long months of speculation will eventually culminate in Moss stepping on Bill Walsh field to play for the San Francisco 49ers. Lucky for the fans, Moss won’t have to be both the horse and the carriage when it comes to the offense.
As exciting as this move is, the 49ers are not done perusing the wide receiver market. Names like Colston, Meachem, Robinson, Garcon, Jackson and (please please please) Wallace are still out there, ready for free agency to start on Tuesday. Names like Reuben Randall, Stephen Hill and TY Hilton (my college sleeper) are available in the draft. Joshua Morgan is still an option to come back. And let’s try not to forget about Michael Crabtree, who has become a fly in the ointment of sorts, at least until he shows a desire to produce.
This move comes along with many question marks. Can Harbaugh wrangle the free spirit that is Randy Moss? Will Moss keep within his history and quit or will he finally be a team player? Will he block and finish his routes? Can Alex Smith even get him the ball?
Calm your concerns, 49ers faithful. Don’t forget that this contract is low risk/high reward. Assuming that the 49ers will be freshly stocked with a bevy of hungry receiving options, the fall won’t be “Moss to Hastings.” Should Moss fail to adhere to his role, he’ll be released – and much faster than Braylon was.
My original reasoning behind not making this move was that Harbaalke had learned from the Braylon signing; in that respect I doubt I’m wrong. The 49ers won’t waste their time cutting ties with Moss if he proves to be the locker room “cancer” that everyone thinks he is. There’s no doubt in my mind that there will be a young wideout waiting in the wings should Randy decide to be Randy.
Given that it’s March, I’m not even going to bother speculating on how he does. Moss hasn’t played football in over a year. I will mention what he’ll need to do. It will be important for him to finish his routes, block and provide deception. A lot of the 49ers offense is based around defensive misdirection. He will need to get open downfield even when he isn’t getting the ball, uncorking the defense for Walker, Davis and Crabtree underneath. And Alex doesn’t need to throw it 60 yards downfield to complete a pass to him; if Moss is open at 45 or 50 yards, Alex will hit him. It’s all about trust and separation. The minute Alex resigns the two can start building trust. If Moss is even a sliver as fast as he used to be, he’ll get separation.
So there you have it. I was wrong about the 49ers and Moss. I was lying when I said I didn’t want it. I am excited, but that excitement is coated with caution. 49ers fans have been burned with a history of terrible free agent wide receivers, from Edwards to Antonio Bryant and all the way back to Daryl Jackson. As the details of the contract come to light, I’m sure 49ers fans will breathe a sigh of relief. The price will be low. Keeping expectations lower is the name of the game. Who knows, we might be in for a special surprise.