A rolling stone gathers no Moss
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The news out of Eden Prairie, Minnesota on Monday that the struggling Minnesota Vikings released talented, enigmatic and controversial receiver Randy Moss from their roster hit the NFL, its players and fans like a James Harrison helmet-to-helmet collision. The release of the likely Hall of Fame receiver did and should send shock waves through the league. The message is clear that character issues trump even extraordinary talent, although the inconsistent effort in this case makes an accurate assessment of his current level of talent difficult.
Before exploring the potential alternatives with respect to Moss's future, it is important to point out that Vikings organization should not be vilified for taking the chance on him earlier in the year when they traded a third-round draft choice to the Patriots in exchange for his services. The Vikings took a risk that a change in scenery might change Moss's effort level and improve the team in an area of significant need on a team that is in a win now mode that feels that their window of opportunity may be closing. The risk seemed to have failed and the Vikings decided to cut their losses. It would have been very easy to avoid criticism by keeping the player, but team management arguably placed the current well being of the franchise ahead of their own egos and stature and admitted their mistake.
Character matters and one of the tests of true character is how players, coaches and management respond when things are not going well. It is easy to be on board and play together when the team is winning. "Success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan" is an appropriate quote for the NFL. The question is who jumps into the life raft upon the first hint of danger. Players with high character can be counted on to perform no matter how the team is doing. Moss's bizarre press conference after Sunday's game in Foxboro combined with his very uneven effort made him too much of a liability for a team desperate for answers.
Moss clearly demonstrated that he is not be counted on and that his upside was not worth the investment of time or energy.
The story of the future Hall of Fame running back, Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, comes to mind in situations where talented, older players are jettisoned due to character flaws as a positive reminder of how players should act. Prior to the Steelers' most recent run to their Super Bowl victory in Bettis' home town of Detroit, the team made the critical decision to re-sign Bettis for one more year even though his skills had diminished to some extent. His leadership, personality and character qualities still made him a critical component of the team and he willed the team to the pinnacle of success that season.
As for what the future holds for Moss, it seems highly unlikely that another NFL team will roll the dice by claiming him off of waivers at this time of the season. A waiver claim will mean that the team will not only inherit the balance of his large contract for the 2010 season but also the obligation if he is subsequently released to pay the balance of the contract via the termination pay benefit of the collective bargaining agreement. More than likely he would pass through waivers and then revert to a free agent. At that time a team could then offer him a minimum salary contract worth approximately $420,000 for the balance of the season. If he is signed to a minimum deal, the signing team could then release him without any termination pay benefits to the team at any time. At least at that point, the player will realize -- as he may have when he was traded by the Raiders to the Patriots -- that he needs to be on his best behavior for the balance of the season and perhaps the team will realize a modicum of rewards for its risk.
At the end of the day, the question is: What is it worth to have someone on your team, even the most talented at his position, if you cannot know that you can consistently count on effort? Talent gets you extra chances, but most teams would much rather risk it with someone that is less talented, but fully committed. Players like Moss not only hurt teams in their positions, but they really hurt the organization from top to bottom. Someone will invariably take a chance on his talent, but only if the cost is contained, the risk limited and reward extraordinary.
November 2, 2010; 8:59 AM ET
Collective Bargaining Agreement
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