Heading into the off-season, the Vikings have as many question marks as they have answers. And there is no bigger question mark than the fate of wide receiver Randy Moss. Should the Vikings trade their star receiver or should they not? That is the question.
Moss' Trade Value
Last season, the San Francisco 49ers were given a gift. Because the agent of their star receiver and lone asset, Terrell Owens, failed to perform his duties in a timely manner, Owens was denied free agency and the 49ers retained his services for an additional season. Cognizant of the fact that Owens wanted out of San Francisco, and concerned that Owens might make good on his pledge to tank it, the 49ers began shopping for suitors. They found one in the Baltimore Ravens, who offered a second-round draft pick.
The deal was great for two of the three sides. The Ravens obtained a talented, albeit dissatisfied, wide receiver at a discounted price and the 49ers received a return that they did not anticipate going into the off-seaons while relieving themselves of a cap-burdensome contract in what looked like year 10--going on 20--in the rebuilding process. Even TO got something out of the deal as he was finally out of San Francisco and had a promise of a long-term contract.
But TO was not satisfied. Nor was TO's agent. And that led TO's agent to file a grievance with the NFL Players' Union. Following a hearing, the NFL essentially granted TO free agency and TO signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. The price tag for Philly? A fifth-round draft selection to Baltimore and a hefty, long-term contract commitment to TO.
What Moss Would Fetch
While Moss and TO have similar on-field capabilities, Moss' value on the NFL market is markedly different from that of TO in 2004. Moss is the undisputed NFL property of the Minnesota Vikings. And Moss' contract, once considered exorbitant for a receiver, is viewed in a much different light in the post-Marvin Harrison contract-extension era. All of which makes speculation regarding Moss' market value to the Vikings highly intriguing.
To deduce Moss' full market value, however, it is necessary to define what Moss means to the Vikings and what he is likely to mean to another team. Moss is the Vikings' primary offensive weapon. That doesn't mean that the Vikings necessarily look to Moss on every offensive play or even that they need to. What it means is that when Moss is in the game, particularly when he is healthy, Moss commands attention. And attention is what opposing teams pay to Moss.
This is not news to anyone who follows the Vikings. In fact, it is so much not news that it is almost tiring to hear the words spoken. But facts are facts. And the fact that Moss receives additional attention when he is on the field--attention few others in the NFL receive--must be at the fore of discussions regarding Moss' trade value to the Vikings.
Most in the local media have suggested or stated outright that the time has come to trade Moss. "Too tempermental," they claim. "Too immature," they crow. "Too much of a distraction," they lament. True, true, and true. Each of these claims supports trading Moss, but only if the price is right.
Moss' continuing maturity lapses and poor team vision undoubtedly would require his dismissal from any team were he less of an athlete. That fans, media, and, apparently, even some Vikings' officials are contemplating moving Moss in spite of his athletic prowess suggests just how difficult Moss can be to have around. This consternation has led some to speculate that the Vikings will move Moss for the sake of "addition by subtraction."
But it is pointless to move Moss without receiving market value, because at least one NFL team, probably more, will be willing to deal with Moss' sophomoric behavior in exchange for having a player that can change the outcome of the game--usually in a positive manner.
We know that when Moss is on the field, he commands double, sometimes triple coverage. And that means an awful lot to the offense. It means that at least one other player is unaccounted for. It means fewer blitz packages. It means bigger holes for the running game. It means that the quarterback has the option of running or hanging out in the pocket a bit longer. In short, it means that whomever has Moss on their offense essentially has one or two extra players, at least until teams figure out how to single-cover Moss. And that, barring injuries, probably won't happen until Moss nears retirement.
And all of this needs to be thrown in the hopper to determine Moss' market value.
Based on his near-unique ability to command double and triple coverage, Moss is worth at least as much in a trade as any other non-quarterback in NFL history. Does that mean that he is worth Herschell Walker bait? Not likely. No player, as the Vikings' discovered, is worth that asking price. But, if Keenan McCardell is worth a 3rd and 6th round pick, Moss is worth at least a couple of starters and a couple of draft picks.
What the Vikings Should Ask
Before determining what they will ask for Moss should they elect to enter trade talks for Moss, the Vikings need to determine with whom they will be trading. The most likely trading partners are Baltimore and the NY Jets. Both teams need receivers; both teams can work Moss' salary under their caps in 2005; and both teams can offer a bundle of draft picks and defensive players to assuage the Vikings' needs.
Baltimore Trade Possibility
Baltimore finished the season with a dismal offense, predicated on Brian Billick's mistaken belief (undoubtedly adopted from his former mentor, Dennis Green) that any quarterback can play in NFL under the proper circumstances. Either Billick has yet to establish the "proper circumstances" for Kyle Boller to flourish in the NFL or quarterbacks truly must have some inate qualities to perform well in the NFL.
While Boller's poor play undoubtedly contributed mightily to the Ravens' offensive woes in 2004, the lack of a go-to receiver also clearly crippled the Ravens. For the season--the entire season--the Ravens' leading receiver, Kevin Johnson, had 35 receptions. 35! Five Vikings' receivers had more than 35 receptions in 2004. Even Moss, who missed five games and was hobbled in several others, hauled in 49 passes and 13 TDs.
Clearly, Baltimore is in dire need of a receiver. And the fact that Billick and Moss appear to have a rapport (at least that's what both of them now believe), suggests that a Moss to Baltimore deal would be great for both Moss and the Ravens. But what would it do for Minnesota?
For a deal with Baltimore to make any sense, Minnesota would need to obtain players and draft selections. The player options are various. With the Ravens likely willing to part with any defensive players not named Boulware or Lewis, the Vikings would feel like little kids in a candy store. "Mommy, mommy, I want Will Demps! And, and, Edgerton Hartwell! And, ohhhh, moommmmy, pleeeeease can I have Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed. Please, please, please?"
Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome is too cunning to give up all four of these players, even for Moss. But imagine a Vikings' defense with even two of these players with two first round picks over two seasons to toss into the mix. How about Reed (78 tackles, 9 INTs, 2 sacks) taking over for Brian Russell at safety with Terrell Suggs (60 tackles, 11 sacks, Minnesota native) taking over one of the outside linebacker positions? How about Will Demps taking over for Corey Chavous? How about forgetting even considering Hartwell in a trade because he might be available as a free agent anyway?
The possibilities, from the perspective of a Vikings' fan who has known no quality defense for at least a decade, appear limitless. All are intriguing. All worth the price of departing with Moss. Even if it means more scores in the high teens and low 20s.
Up Next: What Else is on the Table.