Around this time of year my friends and acquaintances start asking: so, now that football season is over, what do you do?
I shake my head and explain: one thing that the NFL does extraordinarily well is make itself a topic of conversation all year. It never stops.
The league has a preseason, a regular season, a postseason and, at this time of year, silly season. The Super Bowl is well past and free agency has yet to begin. Trades are on hold until the new league year begins in March and while we all think DeSean Jackson will be franchised, it can’t actually happen for real until Monday at the earliest.
We can try to look ahead at what veterans the Eagles should target in free agency, but we don’t even yet know what players will be available because those franchise and transition tags haven’t been applied yet. The Combine is coming up, and that provides some buzz, but in the end it’s speculation of the highest order, since free agency can alter teams’ needs and change the draft. The guy who looks like a perfect fit right now might be an unnecessary addition in a few weeks.
The reality is there is nothing concrete happening in the NFL right now. But the league is so compelling that no one wants to stop talking about it.
Enter Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, playing this year’s versions of Brett Favre, stirring up hype, breathless speculation and fanciful thinking by some fans despite all evidence arguing against either of them being a major factor in 2012. (Speaking of which, can we get Favre to team with one of these guys, and just mic them up for an entire season?)
How do two players generate so much attention, even after combining for two fewer touchdowns last season than Eagles backup defensive end Juqua Parker?
Spectacular highlight reels and fans’ memories will do that, even if the big plays are by now terribly outdated. At one point Owens and Moss were each unstoppable forces on the field, and some fans would love to see them give it one more try for their team, hoping to catch the proverbial lightning in a bottle. No matter what they can actually do now, signing an Owens or Moss sounds more exciting to some than a solid, contributing third receiver who would probably help a team more next season.
But the attention goes beyond that, because the receivers combined that incredible on-field talent with just as much skill – maybe more -- at creating drama. Utter the phrases “next question” or “straight cash, homie” to any NFL fan, and they’ll know immediately who and what you are talking about. Moss and Owens have the quirks of outrageous reality stars you can’t take your eyes off of, no matter how often you promise yourself you’ll stop wasting your time with them.
They fill a news void starving for something to fill Twitter, television debate shows and half-baked blogs.
But can they actually do anything on the field?
I talked to ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt about it. He’s a former Packers vice president, and he cast doubt on any team taking a big chance on either Moss or Owens any time soon.
“The problem when you get to a skill position player of a certain age is you don’t know when the fall over the cliff has or will happen,” Brandt said. “You’re taking a chance that a player is going to be able to find that lightning in the bottle once again.”
(T.O is 38, Moss 35).
Brandt added, “most teams are beyond signing players for name value without an ability that matches it.” (That trend apparently doesn’t apply to a certain team that decided it was a good idea to add Vince Young, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith a year ago).
Brandt doubted that either Moss or Owens will be signed before training camps open in late summer. Only after teams that see holes after perhaps losing players to free agency or missing on a target in the draft might they consider either receiver, in his opinion, and only if the team can get them on a deal heavy on incentives and with few, if any, guarantees.
“Any team that signs them is going to want to be able to get out from under the deal,” Brandt said.
They are big names, but Owens and Moss are each declining and have spent a year away from the game. NFL teams speak most honestly with their personnel moves, and the decisions on each speak volumes. Three teams had Moss in 2010 and none wanted to keep him after a season in which he had just 28 catches. Owens was more productive that year, but he has been ditched by three teams in his last three seasons, and no one wanted to take a shot on him in 2011. That tells you something, no?
As for the Eagles, Phil Sheridan covered this well earlier this week, but, to sum up: there is no way T.O. gets another dime of Jeffrey Lurie’s money, even if he invents the greatest stadium-ready solar panels known to man. Moss? I know some Eagles fans are dying for size at receiver, but if you’re going to take on a headache of a receiver who can provide a big-play threat, why wouldn’t you just keep DeSean Jackson, who, you know, has actually made some plays recently?
For what it's worth, Bovada (formerly Bodog) has the Patriots as their favorites to sign Moss, with the Eagles tied for seventh best odds, at 10-1.
I’ve been surprised before – I thought there was no way the Eagles would sign Nnamdi Asomugha after acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – but to me, logic says there’s no chance the Eagles take on either of these disruptive forces. (When I asked Howie Roseman about Moss today, he gave a polite non-comment comment).
Still, each player knows how to captivate an audience, even when they haven’t stepped on the field in a year. As the Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard aptly tweeted this week: “Randy Moss is no dummy. He tells people bored by the end of the NFL season to dance like a clown, and they do. Well played.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, me and 20 of my sports writer friends have to put on fuzzy wigs and cram ourselves into a Volkswagen.