When Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager of the Minnesota Vikings last month, he said he was ready to embrace the pressure of being the final say in personnel decisions. He declined to get into specifics about the muddled decision-making process of the past, but he made no bones about his role going forward: he will have the final say on all decisions regarding player personnel.
Even before the Vikings signed any unrestricted free agents (begins March 13) or drafted a player in 2012, Spielman had one important decision to make. Randy Moss is a street free agent, meaning he could be signed at any time and by any team and his declaration last week that he wanted to return to the NFL for at least another season brought a flood of speculation. Moss was given 5/1 odds to become the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year before he even had a workout or a contract offer (he hasn't had either of those). Odds were also placed on which team would be his by the regular season.
Moss may not have the explosiveness and speed that made him the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1998, allowed him to set the rookie record with 17 receiving touchdowns or even the all-time record with 23 receiving touchdowns in 2007 with the New England Patriots. Fans can't know for sure whether he would be shell of his former self or still capable of drawing double and triple coverage over the top. This much we do know: Moss draws a reaction like few others.
His announcement – via a streaming video he calls MossTV – made all the top sports web sites. When Moss' former teammate and Hall of Fame candidate Cris Carter said Moss has a "quit" in him like no other athlete, Moss responded by calling out Carter's ego and claims of mentorship, along with (sarcastically, we assume) wishing him good luck with his Hall of Fame pursuits. It made for all the required elements of a good storyline – diva receivers with Hall of Fame credentials going after each other. They were already the top two receivers in Vikings history and they were arguably two of the most polarizing personalities to roam the locker room at Winter Park. Viking Update's story on the Moss-Carter exchange wasn't only picked up by the FOXSports.com web site but also the overall MSN.com web site for about 24 hours, drawing hundreds of thousands of page views and more than 200 comments from fans.
The way those two personalities could come strong with a bold opinion, it's no surprise that Vikings fans and NFL fans would have passionate responses to their respective views. Some viewed Carter as a truth-teller about Moss quitting; others believed he let his jealousy of Moss come to the forefront in all its ugly glory. Some viewed Moss as rightfully putting Carter in his place with his response; others believed he continued down a delusional path of not accepting responsibility for his sometimes lackluster effort. The view here, from someone who has been around the Vikings locker room long enough to have seen both in action, says all those opinions are right.
So when it came to Moss' stated desire to re-enter the NFL, Spielman could have taken many tactics. The emotional Mike Tice might have one day thrown Moss under the bus and the next day longingly dusted off the Randy Ratio to convince him to resurrect a depleted receiving corps. Brad Childress likely would have said little to nothing about the Vikings' interest – if any – in giving Moss another shot in purple. Leslie Frazier may have talked about the good things Moss has done in the past without revealing the franchise's intentions for him in the future.
Spielman showed the first sign of accountability. His answer was short, yet decisive. The Vikings are moving on. There is no interest in Moss in Minnesota from the only decision-maker that matters. Spielman could have talked in generalities, as he and others in the organization have done, but all that would have accomplished is allowing Moss fans to hang onto a hope that will never come true.
Moss will return to Minnesota one day … when he is inducted into the Ring of Honor (on second thought, would he show up for that?). He might even be gracious enough to give one more press conference from Winter Park in front of reporters he is convinced line up to criticize him. But his past history of histrionics won't have Spielman entertaining a Moss return to the current team.
Spielman is looking for the team to get younger and he is focused on a long-term vision instead of a win-at-all-costs-now approach that got the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game following the 2009 and then crippled them moving forward in 2010 and 2011.
Fans have lined up to take sides on the Carter vs. Moss saga. They have called each of them all sorts of names that back up each of their assessments about the diva receivers – egomaniacs, quitters and other such digs. Fans have also stepped in line to criticize Spielman for the team's personnel moves in the recent past and Moss fans don't want to hear he won't be coming back.
But, since Spielman has never had full control of a roster until now, he has to be given a couple years before a true judgment on his drafting and free-agent ability can be reasonably made. For now, he's at least being upfront on a few issues: He is the man with the responsibility going forward and he is cutting the cord on Moss.
As for the rest of his decisions, we're less than a month away before he will be receiving all kinds of criticisms for his free-agent choices – justly deserved or otherwise. Welcome to the top hotseat.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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