As recently as one year ago, I didn't know if keeping Santana Moss as a member of the Washington Redskins was the right move. His numbers had declined for the third straight year in 2009. His status as a No. 1 receiver was becoming problematic. He didn't move the needle for a losing team. Knowing that he was going to be an NFL free agent in 2011, that year seemed like a good time to move on. Or so I thought at the time.
One year has passed, and in that year, I and many others saw the value of Santana Moss. Thankfully, the Washington Redskins did too. In re-signing Moss to a reported three-year, $15 million contract with $6 million guaranteed, the Redskins have chosen the least destructive option available to them in this NFL free agency period. That's not damning with faint praise either. When you consider the price, keeping Moss was by far the best option the Redskins could have chosen when it comes to the wide receiver position.
First things first: Moss is a proven commodity to the Redskins. He's among the longest-tenured players on the team. The young players on the roster look up to him, especially the young wide receivers. He's not perfect, and his flaws aren't going away anytime soon, but despite so much turmoil at the quarterback position, he's averaged 73 catches and over 1,000 yards in his six-year Redskins career. He's also not declining, coming off his best season since his first one in D.C. in 2005. That's pretty good production.
It's also pretty good for the price the Redskins paid. At three years and $15 million with $6 million guaranteed, Moss is being paid similarly to guys like Donald Driver and Hines Ward. Is Moss as good as those two? Statistically, he measures up pretty well, especially when you look at his production and age in the year before he signed his new deal. Ward and Driver are better end-zone targets, but Moss is a terror in the slot, and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan finally figured out creative ways to get him there. You say tomato, I say tomahto.
Most importantly, though, let's consider the alternatives:
- Let Moss go and replace him with Santonio Holmes. This would be a horrific move. Holmes isn't that much better than Moss, yet would command significantly more money. He also carries the risk of being suspended after missing four games last year for substance abuse, and he knows nothing of the Redskins' system. Picking Holmes over Moss would be a positively Dan Snyder-ian move and a sign that the Redskins haven't learned.
- Let Moss go and replace him with Sidney Rice. Same issue as Holmes, only instead of substance abuse, it's injuries that are a concern.
- Let Moss go and replace him with Braylon Edwards. So pay more for someone worse who drops more passes? Great plan.
- Let Moss go and replace him with Malcolm Floyd. This was posed to me by a friend, and I can sort of see it. But Floyd occupies the same role Anthony Armstrong already does, and while he's better than Armstrong, he's also, to a degree, the a product of the San Diego Chargers' system. Would he be able to duplicate whatever success he had in San Diego in D.C.? Does it really make sense to have two guys who operate mostly as deep threats? Who goes down the middle for catches?
- Let Moss go and replace him with nobody. This strikes me as equally foolish as signing Holmes. While wide receiver shouldn't be a huge area of need with the quarterback situation so unsettled, it also shouldn't be completely ignored. There comes a point where a team needs to put its untested quarterback in some position to succeed and not leave the cupboard completely bare when it comes to targets for him to use. John Beck may not succeed, but he has no chance of succeeding if Moss is gone. Signing Holmes for more money is overkill, but expecting to be able to evaluate Beck fairly with just Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson is asking for trouble. Moss at least makes it easier to evaluate Beck, assuming Beck gets the job.
Ultimately, signing Moss like this means the Redskins have a bridge between the present and the future at the position. They don't have to spend heavily to lure a top option when their quarterback situation is in flux. They don't have to go with a completely bare cupboard that makes it difficult for their quarterback to succeed. They buy themselves time to evaluate youngsters like Hankerson, Brandon Banks, Aldrick Robinson and whoever else they bring in without having to hand them too much responsibility too soon. Finally, gives Moss' production at 31, they probably won't be saddled with an unproductive wide receiver with a bad contract.
It's not the sexiest free-agent decision, but that's also what makes it the right free-agent decision.
For more on NFL free agency, visit our StoryStream listing key 2011 NFL free agents the Redskins could target. For all your NFL free agency rumors, visit that StoryStream. Also, be sure to check out SB Nation's Redskins blog Hogs Haven.