Sentiment is a luxury most teams can’t afford in the hard-hearted salary cap era. When a player’s age starts creeping up, even when’s he’s still performing at a high level, it’s only natural for his team to wonder: How much longer can he keep doing this? Clubs especially think these things when the player comes to the end of his contract, as Santana Moss did this offseason.
Moss’ 2010 was sterling: 93 catches (a career high) for 1,115 yards (second-best of his career) and six touchdowns (third-best). It’s hard to imagine what Mike Shanahan’s scoring-challenged offense would have looked like without him. His speed – or enough of it, at least – was still there; he handled the hard knocks that came with running all those underneath routes in Shanny’s scheme. He looked, pretty much, as good as ever.
But he also turned 32 in June, and the rebuilding Redskins have decided to “go young” at a lot of spots. As popular as Moss is with the fans, the coach and GM would have been perfectly within their rights to let him go and sink their money into a younger receiver, one who might still be a force five years from now – something Santana likely won’t be. Moss-philes would have yelped for a while, but as Santana got older and the New Kid got better, they might have changed their minds about the efficacy of the move.
The Redskins didn’t let Moss go, though. They re-signed him to a three-year, $15 million dollar deal that may well keep him in Washington until the end of his playing days. Was this a wise decision? The proof will be in the pass-catching. But it makes perfect sense in one important respect: If Shanahan ever hopes to build anything here, he’s going to need more players like Santana, high-performance/low-maintenance types who set a proper example for the younger ones.
It isn’t often a top receiver can be described as “low-maintenance.” It tends to be a very needy position, one overpopulated by whiners and self-promoters. Moss is neither. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say a disparaging word about a teammate or second-guess a coach for not throwing him the ball more. He has a peace that, in this most violent of games, is rather stunning.
At any rate, he’s a guy you want in the huddle when the game is on the line. And he’s a guy you want in the locker room, so you can point to him and say: “This is how a professional is supposed to act.” If the price of that is that, a year from now, we don’t think quite as highly of his talents as we do now, so be it. The Redskins are in a rut, and only players like Santana Moss are going to get them out of it.
He’s had a nice six-year run in Washington, you have to admit – understatedly nice. The latter comes from playing for a team that gone 42-54 in that time and made the playoffs only twice. It might interest you to know that Moss is in the top 10 in the NFL in receiving yards during that stretch and in the top 12 in receptions. Here’s where he fits in:
MOST RECEPTIONS, 2005-10
566 Reggie Wayne, Colts
555 Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
528 Andre Johnson, Texans
528 Wes Welker, Dolphins/Patriots
493 Anquan Boldin, Cardinals/Ravens
481 T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals/Seahawks/Ravens
471 Derrick Mason, Ravens
469 Chad Ochocinco, Bengals
462 Steve Smith, Panthers
455 Donald Driver, Packers
449 Hines Ward, Steelers
442 Santana Moss, Redskins
MOST RECEIVING YARDS, 2005-10
6,162 Terrell Owens, Eagles/Cowboys/Bills/Bengals
6,078 Roddy White, Falcons
That’s right, from 2005 to 2010, Santana had more catches for more yards than the Other Moss, Randy. (Though, Randy, in his defense, did have a slight edge in touchdown catches – 63-33.)
Something else about the second list that’s interesting: Santana is the only receiver in the bunch who didn’t catch a single pass from a Pro Bowl quarterback. (That is, a QB who had a Pro Bowl season while the wideout was playing with him.) Moss’ collaborators – not that anyone needs to be reminded – have been Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman.
So Santana certainly hasn’t done it the easy way. And now he has a chance to be something more than just a player who passed through town, provided some thrills for a few years and moved on to the next paycheck. He has a chance to be remembered as a Redskin.