Thursday, September 22, 2011

Praising Santana Moss

Remember Laveranues Coles? When the Redskins signed him in 2003, they believed they had found their big-play wide receiver. Of course they believed that, because not only did they sign him to a seven-year, $35 million deal with $13 million guaranteed, but they also forfeited their first-round pick to the Jets since Coles was a restricted free agent. That selection ended up being the 13th overall pick.

The linked article also highlights two other interesting things from that offseason: 1) That was the offseason when the Redskins decided it would be a good idea to sign several Jets players, including Chad Morton, Randy Thomas, and John Hall; and 2) (it's probably better if I just quote this from the article):
Coles would fill Washington's need for a speedy, big-play receiver to play opposite Rod Gardner. They had originally planned to draft such a player -- such as University of Miami's Andre Johnson -- by trading picks to move up on draft day, but Coles would give them a proven talent at roughly the same price without risking a training camp holdout.
I'm against the Redskins trading draft picks; most Redskins fans are. But at the time, they were still wheeling and dealing with reckless abandon, as evidenced by the Coles trade. Still, it would have been pretty awesome for the Skins to end up with Andre Johnson, though it would have taken a lot to move up to select him since he was taken third overall by the Texans. Also, here are some players who were taken in the first and second rounds who would have been available at No. 13 had the Redskins not traded for Coles: Ty Warren, Troy Polamalu, Calvin Pace, Willis McGahee, Dallas Clark, Larry Johnson, Nick Barnett, Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Tillman, Rashean Mathis, Anquan Boldin, and Osi Umenyiora. There were others, but you get the point. Oh, and with their first pick in the draft (at No. 44 in the second round), the Skins selected Taylor Jacobs out of Florida. Did I mention that the Steve Spurrier era was a disaster?

But back to Coles. Under Spurrier, Coles had a solid 2003-2004 season in his first year in Washington. He caught 82 passes for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns. But after that season, Spurrier resigned, and Daniel Snyder hired Joe Gibbs. Under Gibbs, a believer in establishing the run and continuing to pound the ball, Coles was not as productive. He had more catches (90) the next season, but only for 950 yards and a single touchdown. Predictably, Coles was unhappy:
[Coles:] "He [Gibbs] wasn't flexible. We didn't see eye to eye. I just felt like it [the offense] wasn't for me. He knew that. I knew that. So we felt that it was best that we both go our separate ways."
Coles and Gibbs held a couple of meetings to settle their issues, and Gibbs apparently even agreed to alter the play-calling to include more downfield passing instead of being so conservative. But for whatever reason, the two sides could not agree on anything concrete and Coles was traded back to the Jets in exchange for Santana Moss.

Even though the Redskins had to absorb a significant cap hit to get rid of Coles, they were happy to replace him with Moss. At the time, Moss was viewed as a talented playmaker:
In Moss, the Redskins obtain an explosive wide receiver with blazing speed who is also a dynamic punt returner.

"We're excited to have Santana Moss," Vice President Vinny Cerrato said yesterday in brief comments because the trade wasn't official. "He's been a touchdown-maker, and he has great speed."
Redskins fans eventually learned that anything Cerrato said should be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case he was right. Many were skeptical of the move because of Moss's hamstring issues, but looking back, he still played in at least 15 games in three of the four seasons with the Jets. The only season that he didn't -- in 2001, his rookie season -- was because of torn cartilage in his left knee, an injury he suffered in training camp.

Surprisingly, Moss didn't bring all of his return skills to the Redskins special teams unit -- not because he wouldn't have done well in that role, but because the Redskins had others to handle return duties and also because Moss flourished with a new offense. In fact, he's only returned 24 punts with the Redskins, though that does include his 80-yard return in 2008 against Detroit.

In the 2005-2006 season, Moss caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. No one expected that kind of season, and it's not surprising that Moss hasn't put up those kinds of numbers again. It's hard to place much of the blame for that on Moss, though, since he's been one of the most talented of the Redskins' offensive weapons for several years now. It also helped that the Skins had some stability at quarterback with Mark Brunell at the time, which was also the last time he played in a full season. He's basically been a backup since.

Without a consistent quarterback, offensive scheme, coaching, and overall talent, the Redskins have not had a competent offense for years, and Moss's numbers took a dive after that first season. Here they are since:

2006-2007: 14 games, 55 catches, 790 yards, 6 TD
2007-2008: 14 games, 61 catches, 808 yards, 3 TD
2008-2009: 16 games, 79 catches, 1,044 yards, 6 TD
2009-2010: 16 games, 70 catches, 902 yards, 3 TD
2010-2011: 16 games, 93 catches, 1,115 yards, 6 TD

Those aren't amazing numbers, but they're pretty solid considering how abysmal the Redskins looked on offense during most of those seasons. I also have no doubt that Moss, on a more explosive offense with other talented receivers, could have performed much better and been talked about as one of the most productive receivers in the league. Still, Moss has performed admirably in Washington and is arguably the team's most consistent offensive threat, especially now that Chris Cooley seems to have taken a step back because of his knee injury. It's also worth noting that Moss, viewed as sort of an injury-prone guy at the time, has only missed four games in his Redskins career.

Similar to Clinton Portis, though not nearly as outspoken or controversial, Moss will occasionally do some questionable things. But he doesn't get in trouble off the field, which is rather important, right Brandon Banks?

Perhaps Moss has been more of a No. 2 receiver who has been tasked with the job of a No. 1 during his Redskins tenure. I don't think many would argue that, and I wouldn't either. It also would have been pretty exciting to watch the Redskins offense with Moss as the second option at receiver while a bigger, more talented receiver took some of the pressure off of him. But, thanks to bad drafting and plenty of failed acquisitions, that never happened. In the end, the Redskins have been stuck with Moss as their top wide receiver for a while now. But as Rod Gardner, Brandon Lloyd, David Patten, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and the plethora of awful moves the Redskins have made to try to shore up the wide receiver position have shown, there's no guarantee that another receiver will fit right in (especially when Cerrato is the guy calling the shots, or at least most of them). Moss is one of the few moves to actually pan out, and he's still going strong. Hopefully that continues.

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