Bringing the Santana Moss Debate to Hog Heaven

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 19: Wide receiver Santana Moss  of the Washington Redskins makes a touchdown pass reception against Alan Ball  of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Santana Moss has been a better Redskins wide receiver than any player on the roster since at least the Norv Turner era, and probably before that. 

It would be fallacious to suggest that Moss has always given 100%, or to use some of the other superlatives about his performance, and Moss hasn’t always been good enough to produce big plays on an offense that, lets face it, offered him little help outside of its tight ends and running backs.  I’ve been more critical of Moss’ play than most, because the Redskins have had trouble scoring points on offense, and Moss hasn’t always put up big TD totals.

But in his six seasons in Washington, the Redskins were led in single-season passing by three different quarterbacks, and in single-season rushing by three different running backs.  But only one player led the Redskins in receiving in that timeframe: Santana Moss.  Only once was Santana Moss the team’s offensive MVP (2005) during his time here, but in this period of Redskins history, only two players could possibly be considered the best player on the offense since 2004: either Chris Cooley or Moss.  And I think Moss was a little bit better.

Given all of those accolades I think it makes sense to give Moss his due; and given the fact that his contract has terminated and he can now sign with any team prior to March 4, I think it’s time for appreciation for what Santana Moss has accomplished.  And it’s also, in my opinion, time that the team move on at the WR position.

When I analyze Santana Moss’ performance, I see a guy who still has a lot of value and a guy who is going to get a decent contract to play football next year — he’s not going to have to sign for scraps — but I also see a guy who got targeted 145 times by the Redskins last year.  That’s a lot.  Here’s all the receivers in the NFL who were thrown more passes:

  • Roddy White (180)
  • Reggie Wayne (175)
  • Larry Fitzgerald (172)
  • Brandon Marshall (146)

And…that it.  The Redskins threw to Moss this past season as if he was one of the top five receivers in the NFL.  He was treated like Andre Johnson in the Kyle Shanahan offense.  And Moss was unable to replicate the production of Johnson, because there’s such a wide gap between Moss’ ability, and where the best receivers in the NFL are right now.

When you are looking at specific reasons that the Redskins passing offense struggled in 2010 (and really, since 2007), Moss can’t be blameless.  While his season-to-season consistency is something that should be appreaciated by fans, we also must understand on the same hand that post-2005 Moss was not a particularly valuable player, and he was a constant in an offense that always seemed to leave something to be desired.  The correlation between the weak, point scoring Redskin offenses of the last three or four years are consistent with average to below avereage touchdown production out of Santana Moss.  Every year, the Redskins should have known what they would get out of Santana Moss: a guy who was NOT going to be the big play threat that made the whole offense productive.  At times, I think the focus of the team was only on what Moss did bring to the offense, and then the assumption was that the problems must be elsewhere.

In NFL hierarchy, Moss has been — at best — a mediocre receiver in his most recent five years with the team.  And it’s no coincidence when the Redskins offense of the last half-deacde has been able to progress past the level of mediocre, they’ve done it on the back of a strong rushing attack.  The passing game has been a consistently available element of football offense between ever-changing quarterbacks, pass blockers, and offensive schemes.  But if you’re a bottom-line points kind of person (and I’m not, but I know a lot of you are), then Moss too frequently ends up being a limiting factor on the point scoring ability of the Redskins offense.

Though I value things like limiting bad plays and field position, I do think it’s time to start building towards an offense that can beat opponents by getting ahead early and making them chase.  And one of the easiest steps to building in that direction, I think, is to let Moss sign elsewhere while the Redskins use internal, draft, and free agency options to find a younger replacement for the role.

It’s time that points start to come out of the passing game for this offense, and with Chris Cooley’s red zone struggles still very much an issue, Moss’ expiring contract could be the start of positive offensive change.  It could also yield a worse receiving corps than we have seen in past years.  That’s an understandable fear, but I think was a much stronger fear before Anthony Armstrong had a breakout year in 2010.  Armstrong helped keep the Redskins passing offense out of the NFL basement this year.  He’s not a one man show, and the Redskins need to free up roster space (and playing time) to give to guys like Terrence Austin, or Malcolm Kelly, or possibly Steve Breaston or Leonard Hankerson.  None of these players can play full time if Moss is brought back, and the passing offense will likely remain status quo, adequacy that things that aren’t scoring points.

Maybe the move to let Moss walks fails spectacularly for a year.  That could be the case.  Maybe Moss has a great 2011 season elsewhere.  That could also happen.  But I don’t think that fear should guide the decision making process.  I think Moss’ slot role is a role that many a receiver (even already on the Skins roster) could excel in.  And getting those 145 plays back to distribute amongst younger players could stimulate an offense and help quickly develop young talent that the Redskins aren’t yet aware exists.  All of this could happen simply by making the (admittedly difficult) decision to severe ties with the past.

And, in the opinion of this author, is exactly what the Redskins should do with Santana Moss now that he’s on the open market.

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