Reward gone, risk remains
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T.O.'s history of in-fighting with teammates, and taste for media attention is well known, but they hadn't kept him from finding a job in the league before now. Teams often overlook spotty personal histories to grab talent at a bargain basement price. What's changed is that his talent has declined. Teams were willing to accept T.O.'s unreliable personality when that risk came with the upside of his immense talent.
From 2000 to 2008 T.O. put up at least 77 receptions, 1,100 yards and 9 TDs in each of the 7 years in which he played more than half the season. His last year in Dallas, T.O.'s receptions and yardage dipped below those marks in a full 16 game season. Last season T.O fell well short of all of those marks despite playing all 16 games for Buffalo.
Also strongly indicating a recent decline is the deepening of one of the most significant flaws in T.O.'s game. Catching the football is obviously a vital part of being a successful receiver, and for much of his career T.O. has been plagued with drops and a catch rate (receptions divided by targets) generally below what is normal for a top caliber receiver. The past two seasons T.O. has managed to catch over half the passes thrown his way by only the very slimmest of margins. 69 receptions out of 139 passes thrown his way during his last year in Dallas, and 55 receptions of 109 passes thrown to him last year. The league's most productive WRs usually haul in passes at a rate that is well into the 60s and at worst in the high 50s (for WRs used as deep threats very often). T.O. himself usually landed in the low 60s to high 50s. As age creeps up on him this blemish is becoming a crippling flaw in his game.
T.O. may still have the talent left to contribute in a more limited role on a team with more talent around him than the Bills had, but the salary he would expect to command, along with the potential to cause any staff that picks him up major headaches in the locker room and in front of the media makes it unlikely he finds another NFL team willing to roll the dice on him now that his hands are as unreliable as his temperament.
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