Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Mar 2012

49ers Sign Randy Moss

Adam Schefter is reporting Randy Moss will make his return to the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, signing a one-year deal after his workout catching passes from Jim Harbaugh this morning.

Of the rumored destinations for a hypothetical Randy Moss who is fast and motivated, I thought San Francisco was one of those that made sense. As we saw during the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers receivers might as well not have been on the field.

I wrote about Moss's 2010 play with the Titans here. From what I saw of his play then, both with the Titans and with the Pats and Vikings, he didn't separate downfield very often, and he was more or less worthless when there was a defender near him when the ball arrived. I'm not expecting much from him in San Francisco and don't think you should expect much either.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 12 Mar 2012

52 comments, Last at 22 Mar 2012, 12:59am by bill


by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 10:31pm

Well, that challenged your server.......

If NFL Films doesn't mike up all the conversations between Harbaugh the Headstrong and Moss the Moper, it is a tragedy.

Tom, you may be right, but you may wish to consult with Aaron regarding the ability to make accurate Randy Moss predictions. That guy lives in his own private Idaho, and for all you know, he was mostly thinking about bass fishing when he ran the routes you observed in 2010. If he still has something resembling his top end speed, AND he actually wants to play football for 6 months, he'll make the Niners a lot better, especially since the 9 route is one of Smith's better throws. I doubt Harbaugh would have wanted to sign him if Moss had not displayed something resembling his top end speed.

It'll be entertaining for either the Niner fans or the Niner haters.

by Phil Osopher :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 10:38pm

The real question is how they will pay him?


“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
-Albert Einstein

"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers"

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 11:05pm

Waste of time.

I hope I'm wrong but I don't see the point. He's never really worked the middle of the field willingly (quite a big requirement in the 49ers' offense) and if he isn't a starter, and I really hope he won't be, then it will put a strain on the special teams because he certainly won't be a gunner or return man.

Colour me baffled.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 11:54pm

Simply taking Kyle Williams' roster spot alone would be a huge upgrade for the 49ers special teams.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 2:44am

Harbaugh saw him run, saw that he can still force defenses to rotate a safety in his direction, and thus keep the safety out of the box, and thus saw Smith with more 2 and sixes or less. I suspect teams will challenge Moss early in the season. He'll either torch some single coverage, and thus make it easier to run the way Harbaugh desires, or he won't, in which case he'll go nuts again and be cut.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 6:30am

You're assuming he's not that good any more. If you're right, then obviously he's a bad signing, even on an incentive-laden deal. But I'm with Will: there's a chance he's still got most of his speed, and in that case it's a very good signing, whether he's willing to go over the middle or not. If you have something close to a full-go Randy Moss, you change your offense to suit or you are a fool.

Really, who knows? Scouting his 2010 performance is not going to help here. Randy Moss is a rave drug with an honorific wrapped in an evil wizard wrapped in a Nazi code machine.

by nat :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:03am

Okay. I give.

Nazi code machine = Enigma.

But the rest is a riddle and a mystery to me.

by BucNasty :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:53am

Honorific: mister
Rave Drug: E

Can't think of anything for an evil wizard that sounds like riddle.

by nuk :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:00am

Tom Riddle = Voldemort

by DavidL :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:11pm

And we're still the nerdiest football commentariat on the Internet. Not that it's ever been close.

by nat :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 1:06pm

Double Damn.

by nat :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 1:06pm


by Lance :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 3:54pm

Then shouldn't it be an honorific with a Rave drug? (Mister-E?)

Still, the whole thing is really clever. The 'evil wizard' thing was genius.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:26pm


by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Fri, 03/16/2012 - 12:50pm

Never? Dumb. Sure, in the last couple of years, he developed alligator arms, but in his great years with Minnesota and NE, he killed defenses on posts and crossing routes.

Maybe Moss has lost a step (I think he has), but he's still likely to draw the opposing defense's top CB, and possibly safety help over the top. That would be huge in and of itself, as Crabtree can't really beat good CBs, and it frees up Vernon to often face single coverage.

I still think Moss has something left, and contrary to the media's CW, Smith's best ball is the deep pass, where he has a nice touch that is often lacking in the short passes he's asked to throw most often to Crabs and Morgan.

Given that this is a non-guaranteed contract with a low $ figure and heavily weighted towards incentives, I think it's a no-lose situation. Particularly since (unlike Wallace), signing Moss did not require the loss of a 1st round pick. Ideally, the 49ers draft a WR in the 1-3 rounds, develop him under Moss (who for all his faults is generally thought of as a good mentor), and they've got their WR for next year and for the future.

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 11:18pm

Randy Moss stays on the niners roster for 5 games.

Over or under?

by RickD :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 11:46pm


Ochocinco stayed on the Pats all season in spite of being unproductive. And it's not like the 49ers are stacked at WR.

Heck, even Haynesworth stayed on the Pats' roster for 6 games.

by chemical burn :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:30am

Yeah, but Chad Johnson was never the same kind of divisive on=the-field distraction as Moss or TO. 85 always seemed to be a showman pushing the boundaries of entertainment, where as Moss seems genuinely unable to control himself. Haynesworth was just lazy and unwilling to work. Keep in mind that Moss just blew up his relationship in seconds flat with the last 2 teams he played for and also got booted from a franchise with a history of keeping players in line that wanted nothing more than to keep him around...

(Also, is it too early to pick the 49er's as 2012's surefire disappointment?)

by Will Allen :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:40am

I think the central factor with Randy Moss is always money, and not in the green eyeshade, cold blooded accounting, sense. Money is a very, very, emotional issue for Moss, in that he equates money with respect. If hs is in the mode where he thinks he needs to earn his employer's money, he'll be very productive. If he thinks he's already earned the money, like with the Patriots, and the employer hasn't ponied up accordingly, he'll go psychotic. With the Raiders, I think he just saw what trainwreck it was, and decided to check out.

I think there is a good chance that it'll be a year before Moss thinks the Niners are not being sufficiently respectful with their checkbook, so the Niners have a decent chance to get a good year out of him before he blows up again.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 5:02pm

Maybe. Doesn't really explain why he checked out for both the Titans and Vikings, though. Maybe he figured he was set and the motor sports team was his future. Funny how quickly that dream apparently disappeared for a guy that was supposedly really conservative with his money.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:50pm

Depends on your definition of disappointment. They had a really easy schedule last season, so I could see them playing as well or better than they did last year and ending up with a worse record.

by chemical burn :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 6:56pm

That is what I mean. I think a lot of folks are seeing them as the cream of the NFL (or at least up there) and I'm not sure they convinced me. If Alex Smith doesn't have the game of his career (or the Saints covered Vernon Davis) they're a one-and-done team propped up by a pretty easy schedule and at least one insanely fortuitous win (goddamn Ronnie Brown, the kicker, Jeremy Maclin, etc.!) Any plan that involves "Alex Smith plays at a high level!" isn't a great plan. Or certainly one risking disappointment.

by tuluse :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 7:06pm

New Orleans and the Giants were both played like excellent teams last year, and the 49ers games were basically coin tosses, so they appear to be on their level.

by chemical burn :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 8:23pm

I'll leave it at this: 2011 was an extremely weird year and I'm not sure having a fluke-ish performance (TO ratio in particular) combined with an easy schedule means they're an elite team. If you told me 10-6 and a playoff win at home with a second round loss, that wouldn't be surprising - but I think almost everyone sees them going to Championship game (again) or better next year, no problem. I would be stunned if that happened.

Also, the fucking Giants. Gaaaaaah. That team... is... that's an elite team?! Some 9-7 schmucks that easily could have missed the playoffs?! That's "excellence?"

I hate football.

by tuluse :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 8:30pm

I said the Giants played like an excellent team. They were clearly not excellent all year, but there were at times.

"If you told me 10-6 and a playoff win at home with a second round loss, that wouldn't be surprising - but I think almost everyone sees them going to Championship game (again) or better next year, no problem. I would be stunned if that happened."

Anyone who is predicting which teams will make it to the conference championship at this time of year is a fool.

by t.d. :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 9:44pm

to be fair, the Giants were 13-7 when all was said and done. They also played the one and two seeds in the NFC and the one seed in the AFC so they earned what they got.

by chemical burn :: Wed, 03/14/2012 - 2:19pm

Look, as an Eagles fan, the whole Giants issue is frustrating as there is no team they have owned more consistently and thoroughly (7-2 after the past four seasons including the playoffs - and they always beat them in the playoffs.) I can't help but think Tom Coughlin is a joke based on how he gets out-coached ON GAMEDAY consistently by Andy freakin' Reid. They're the only team against which the close games seem to go in the Eagles favor and there are some quite enjoyable humiliations of them peppered in there, most notably the Djax punt return game. I just can't take a 9-7 version of that team seriously.

But they got the rings and the Eagles don't.

And don't worry Giants fans, I know I'm wrong. I'm saying its irrational.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 03/16/2012 - 2:14pm

In English soccerball you get some teams which are known as "cup teams". The main prize is the league where teams play each other home&away; but the secondary prize are cup competitions which are a straight knockout. Essentially the NFL's regular season and playoffs respectively.

Cup teams are basically collections of good players that the manager is able to motivate on gameday when it's a one-off winner-goes-through match; but in the league he doesn't have the skill to get the team to perform week-in, week-out.

To me that sounds like Tom Coughlin's Giants which have been decidedly average in the regular season but on two occasions now have come together in the postseason.

by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 7:12pm

That sword cuts both ways, what if the niners don't turn a receiver loose against Dallas or their kicker misses a 48 yarder, they don't have only three days to prepare for the Ravens and Willis doesn't get hurt. Also, when Vernon davis knows what he'd doing he's pretty hard to cover, check out his production over the final five or six games when he'd worked the offense out.

That said I'd expect most teams to be likely to regress from a 13-3 season where they had a turnover ratio that's probably unsustainable.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 7:21pm

...and a really, really tough schedule next year.

by chemical burn :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 8:26pm

That's really all I'm saying - I see regression where a lot of folks are seeing a 12-4 team that's actually going to have improved when schedule is taken into account. I could also see them being the team they've been for a decade and coming out at 6-10 and not be even slightly shocked, especially if their divisional rivals becomes essentially competent, which the Seahawks and Cards both seem on the verge of... (Also, I guess I shouldn't count out the magical, inarguably talented Sammy Bradford having a season for the ages.)

by bill (not verified) :: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 12:59am

You know, in the regular season the 49ers played 6 playoff teams, only TWO at home, and won 5 of those games. I thin that indicates that they earned their 13-3 record.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Fri, 03/16/2012 - 12:53pm

49ers under Harbaugh are pretty similar to Pats under Belichick, imo. Strong locker room, well respected coach, no nonsense. The contract is structured in a way to maximize the probability that Moss buys in. I'm not worried about his behavior this year. This is the same situation as when he first joined NE.

by Dave in Tucson (not verified) :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 2:51am

Spherical and of uniform density?

by Bill Walsh's Holy Ghost (not verified) :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 3:31am

Not THE big free agent signing I was hoping for but given the disappearance of 49ers WRs, the sheer possibility of HoF Moss showing up is exciting. What I am most curious of is the contract. If its a LOW salary with lots of incentives, then I'm okay with it. I don't see Gore, J. Smith, Harbaugh, et al. tolerating Moss' shennanigans should they arise. Now if only a prominent foreheaded QB would be throwing him the ball...

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:06am

19 catches
16.5 aberage
4 touchdowns

by Will Allen :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:13am

He won't last 6 games if that is his pace, so if you are generally correct, RJ, I'd put him at 6 catches, and 1 or 2 touchdowns.

by ChuckC (not verified) :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:45am

Last year, through 6 games:

Crabtree 25 catches, 1 TD
Morgan 15 catches, 1 TD
Edwards (whole season, didn't bother looking closer) 15 catches 0 TD.

If Moss has 19 catches and 4 TDs after 6 games, that's an improvement over anyone's 6 game performance last year.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:52am

I agree that would be enough through 6 games for him to not go psychotic. RJ's projection was for the season. If that is the season's production, Moss won't finish the season.

by Rabbit :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:33am

Last year SF had the 3rd worst scoring%(TD) in Red Zone, which I'm sure is the primary reason SF signed him. I don't think his overall stats will mean as much to Harbaugh as that improvement.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:46am

I think the middle of the field stuff is overrated in this instance. If Moss is anywhere in the vicinity of his peak, he won't need to work the middle much, because Vernon Davis will have a great season working there.

by raorao (not verified) :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 1:56pm

this. The 49ers don't need another target over the middle, with Crabtree and Davis on the team. What they need is someone capable of separating outside. I'd be surprised if Moss ever crosses the hash marks.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 2:32pm

That's just it. I'm sure Moss is going to get challenged early. If he makes some defensive coordinators pay in September, then Niners opponents in future games are going to face a conumdrum. Giving Moss anything close to the attention he has obtained in the past is going to result in Vernon Davis just dominating the middle of the field, especially if the Niners running game is efficient.

by Theo :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:52am

RJ, where did you get your Sports Almanac from?

by The Hypno-Toad :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:20pm

The way I understand it, a distant relative showed up out of the blue and gave it to him in 1955.

by akn :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:34pm

So wait, we're all living in the Biff dystopia right now? Great scott!

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 1:00pm

Do nkt own ine at this ime but got one Christmas one time. Came from Samta Clais

by DEW (not verified) :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:27pm

I think this has a chance of working, simply because the NFL seems to agree with the entire football media not working for this site that Moss is some kind of awesome force on the field even now. There is no other explanation for the fact that he drew interest this offseason despite being out of football for a year and awful the year before that. Until it's proved otherwise, defensive coordinators will be afraid of him and he'll draw enough coverage as a decoy to make Vernon Davis get open even more easily than usual.

The real risk is that the 49ers will think they've actually solved their WR issues and not go get someone capable of genuinely playing football instead of being a sideshow.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 1:55pm

One thing worth mentioning is that Alex Smith is probably a pretty good ringer for Matt Cassel, with whom Moss caught 69 balls in 2009, including eleven touchdowns. If Moss is motivated, and if he's coming back to play for a good team, on a one-year deal, why wouldn't he be, he will instantly be at least the second best red zone target on the team, if not the best.

And just running decoy fly routes will help the 49ers offense. Moss could be very effective without catching any passes at all, if he's still fast.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 3:27pm

I don't think that Moss has any interest in being a decoy. Wasn't that the whole controversy that blew up with him back circa 2000 when Merrill Hoge said he was dogging his routes?

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 4:41pm

They toss it to him a 6-7 times a game and just let him run 9's, deep outs, and fades. You still have to put someone good out there even if he's dogging it. A smart OC could even design a fake "Randy dogs it" option with play action and Randy does a half-hearted block before running downfield.

by jimbohead :: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 8:51pm

In today's installment of "Game Rewind is Awesome", I've been watching 2009 patriots games, with a focus on Moss on every snap. One thing that's surprising is, Moss looks to me like a pretty willing blocker, even at this point in his career. A couple plays stand out in particular: a WR screen to welker against TB where Moss just completely destroys the first corner to the play, and a long run by Morris, where Moss is driving the corner starting at 10 yds beyond LOS, and finishing 30 yds beyond LOS, with the RB tackled right behind him by the safety.