Moss not as great as he could have been

Brett Davis/US Presswire

Randy Moss' retirement is surprising only because it took NFL teams this long to tire of his act.

Moss is a 34-year-old receiver whose best days are now behind him. He's a toxic malcontent who can drive coaches and teammates batty. For years, Moss was able to find suitors because his electric talent was impossible to ignore.

Today, he's just another unrealistic veteran with an oversized ego and an inability to understand why nobody wants to fall in love with him.

The reason Moss doesn't like the options available to him after 13 NFL seasons -- which was the explanation his agent, Joel Segal, gave for Moss leaving the game -- is that the demand for his services wasn't that great from the start. There were far too many big-name receivers on the free-agent market and the trading block for Moss to be a hot item.

The ones who signed quickly (such as the New York Jets' Santonio Holmes and the Seattle Seahawks' Sidney Rice) were younger than Moss. The older veterans who found homes more recently (such as the Jets' Plaxico Burress and the New England Patriots' Chad Ochocinco) seem far more willing to follow the company lines laid out for them by their new teams.

In fact, Burress' signing with the Jets proves how far Moss has fallen. New York was more willing to commit a one-year, $3 million deal to a player who's never made the Pro Bowl and spent the past two seasons in prison. What the Jets seemed to be saying was that it didn't matter that Burress might be rusty and out of shape. More important to them was the reality that he had been a winner at some point in his career.

That description is one that should never be applied to Moss. For all his impressive career numbers -- 954 receptions, 14,858 yards and 153 touchdowns -- he was a player who always competed on his own terms. At his best, he was the most dangerous receiver in the league, as he was during his first seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and his 2007 campaign with New England (when he set a league record with 23 touchdown receptions).

At his worst, he was the kind of diva who could demoralize teammates and coaches with his laziness and disinterest in doing his job.

Moss' 2010 season was emblematic of how big a jerk he could become. The Patriots traded him just four games into the regular season. The Vikings then dumped him after he spent four games with them. Then Moss wound up in a situation that once seemed unfathomable.

After the Tennessee Titans claimed him off waivers, they didn't even make an attempt at utilizing his talents. The only noise Moss made in Nashville -- where he caught just six passes in eight games -- came during the brief, testy media conference he held upon his arrival.

The message everybody was sending Moss last fall was that times had changed. He needed to become the kind of player who was more concerned about helping a team win than landing a fat contract. He needed to become the kind of player who was willing to block tirelessly and run routes hard when the ball wasn't thrown his way. The NFL can be a forgiving place for talents who still have something to offer. It eventually became all too clear that Moss found such compromises to be beneath him.

The irony here is that Moss always has been this way. It's just that his numbers and his highlights always helped obscure that fact. When fellow Patriots were raving about how great a teammate Moss was upon his arrival in 2007, you just knew they might eat those words someday. Anybody who had seen Moss underachieve with the Oakland Raiders the previous two seasons had to know he might eventually return to his old, familiar habits.

As it turned out, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was one of the first to notice his decline last summer. A league source said Brady was so concerned about Moss' lagging work ethic that he discussed it with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in training camp. When Belichick decided that Moss would be fine, Brady became even more agitated after Moss dogged it on a couple routes during an early-season win over Miami.

According to the source, Brady told Belichick during that contest that the team could keep Moss but the receiver wasn't going to be seeing any passes again. Moss was working in Minnesota within days of that conversation.

What that anecdote also reveals is how his blatant disrespect for the game can wear on people's nerves. Moss has quit on teammates and he's given up on plays in the middle of games. He's actually quit so often in his career that it's fair to wonder how that habit will impact his Hall of Fame chances.

For those who trumpet him as a first-ballot lock, just consider how other elite receivers have been treated by the voting process. Michael Irvin wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he had three Super Bowl rings. Cris Carter and Tim Brown have caught more passes than Moss and they can't get anybody to give them a yellow jacket and a trip to Canton.

All Moss has going for him are the kind of numbers that make him seem like more than what he was. Once you get beyond that, you see a picture that is far more disturbing. That would be a player who could have been far greater than he ever was. That also would be a star who too often let moodiness and petulance undermine his dazzling ability.

But the most damning thing that can be said about Moss is something that will become more apparent as this season goes on, assuming he stays retired:

Now that he's decided to leave the game, it's doubtful anybody will actually miss him.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.