Randy Moss gives Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre a target he's wanted since his days with the Green Bay Packers. / File/AP
Randy Moss tilted the balance of power once in the NFC North Division. Can he do it again?
At age 33, he’s no longer the once-in-a-lifetime talent the Minnesota Vikings drafted in 1998. But is he still good enough to be the difference in the division this year? To lift a Vikings team weakened by an injury to their best receiver (Sidney Rice), a quarterback who’s finally showing age (Brett Favre) and slip-shod play on the offensive line (most notably, right tackle Phil Loadholdt)?
Or, have the all-in Vikings, with their aging roster, thrown good money after bad in a desperate shot at the Holy Grail?
There might not be a simple either-or answer to this one, because part of the answer depends on whether Moss is so rare a talent that he remains an elite player for two or three more years. And if so, whether the Vikings can re-sign him to a front-loaded contract extension that protects them when the salary cap likely returns next year.
Still, it’s hard to shake the too-little, too-late feeling of this deal.
To be sure, the Vikings are better here and now. Moss remains a game-changer and is the kind of player likely to develop an instant on-field chemistry with Favre. Think back to Keith Jackson, the great tight end who joined the Packers halfway through the 1995 season. He was uncommonly smart and instinctive, and their almost instant rapport made it look like he and Favre had played together for years.
According to scouts, Moss, for his mercurial moods, also is a smart and instinctive receiver. These two could click fast.
More importantly, there’s how the Vikings might look by the end of the year. Much hinges on Rice’s recovery from late-August hip surgery. Reports say he won’t be back for another four weeks, at least. But if — and it might be a big if — he’s anywhere near his 2009 form by the end of the season, the Vikings could put out as good a group of skill players as any team in the NFL. Along with Moss and Rice at wide receiver, they’d have fragile but dynamic Percy Harvin in the slot, productive Visanthe Shiancoe at tight end, one of the scariest halfbacks in the league in Adrian Peterson, and the declining Favre, who turns 41 on Sunday.
The Vikings, at first look, also paid a palatable price for Moss, who purely as a player is worth more than a third-round pick. But the cost reflects several factors, most notably that he’s in the final year of his contract. The Vikings either will have to pay up soon or risk making this a one-season rental. Second, Moss was past his expiration date for coexisting with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who felt compelled to unload him before the Oct. 19 trading deadline despite his playmaking. And third, Moss is not the player he was as recently as 2007, when he set an NFL record for touchdown receptions in a season (23).
Still, as good as the Vikings might be by the end of the season, it’s hard not to wonder if it will be worth it. If they don’t win the Super Bowl, they’ve mortgaged a little more of their future. They have several old key players in Favre, defensive tackles Pat Williams (38 later this month) and Kevin Williams (30), cornerback Antoine Winfield (33) and guard Steve Hutchinson (32). Now they’ve added a sublime but aging Moss and have lost a decent draft resource.
A high-ranking NFL executive predicted that extending Moss’ contract will cost Minnesota in the range of $9 million a year.
“I think the Moss thing is more psychological, more a shot in the arm than him being the impact player he used to be,” the source said. “They could be good enough to make a run at (the Super Bowl), but I don’t think it will be because of the move they just made. That’s more window dressing. I think he’s going to give them a little bit, but he’s not going to give them what they’re looking for. I think it’s bad money. I don’t think they’re going to get out of it quite what they think they are.”
The front-office executive still considers the Packers the team to beat in the division, though he would have spent the third-round draft pick to land running back Marshawn Lynch, whom he described as young (24) and in “beast mode” his first two seasons in Buffalo before regressing the last two years. Packers General Manager Ted Thompson drew the line short of that third-rounder, so Seattle got him instead.
The executive, though, wouldn’t have spent the third-rounder on Moss, not so much because of the draft pick, but the money it will take to re-sign him.
“(His age) is getting up there a little bit unless you think he’s going to play until he’s 38, and play a high level, $9 million worth of a high level,” the scout said. “I’d have thought long and hard on it. It would have been pretty difficult to pull the trigger if I was them.”
So, yes, the Vikings are a more dangerous team than they were last week, and if Rice gets well, they could have as talented an offense as any in the NFL. They’re certainly more entertaining now, too. This is a can’t-miss show.
But they’re in awfully deep, too. Probably too far.
E-mail Pete Dougherty at firstname.lastname@example.org.