As the 49ers struggled throughout the 2011 season to find consistency at wide receiver, it's hard to imagine anyone expected this to be the outcome. San Francisco signed Randy Moss to a one-year deal on Monday night, ending Moss' brief retirement from the NFL.
"I really didn’t know who was going to try me out, who was going to hook me up," Moss said during a conference call after the transaction was announced. "The organization here pulled the trigger."
Will this work? Well, that depends on a number of factors, each more uncertain than the next:
• Does Moss have anything left in the tank? It's not as if teams just forgot to sign the eccentric 35-year-old before he announced his (albeit short-lived) retirement prior to last season. His 2010 campaign was a mess, filled with disappointing stops in New England, Minnesota and Tennessee. All told, he caught just 28 passes and looked like a guy on his last legs.
• Who will throw him the football? The 49ers appear close to bringing back Alex Smith as their quarterback, but as of the time of Moss' signing, nothing was finalized yet. Even if the ink gets on the dotted line for that deal, can Smith build off his surprising 2011 season or will he revert to the mistake-prone QB we saw before that?
• How will Jim Harbaugh adjust for Moss' abilities? Part of the reason San Francisco made it to the NFC title game last season despite any legit threat at wide receiver -- with a tip of the cap to tight end Vernon Davis and a stingy defense -- was that Harbaugh's offensive system is based on running the football and keeping things simple for the quarterback. Moss, though, is a guy who wants the ball in his hands and does his best work downfield.
If this all pans out, it could be a stroke of genius from the 49ers. The one-year contract not only means that Moss should be plenty motivated, it keeps the risk for San Francisco low. If Moss won't toe the company line, the 49ers should be able to boot him without taking much of a hit.
The 49ers still could use another threat on the outside to combine with Moss and the very inconsistent Michael Crabtree. But Moss gives them the home-run threat they were lacking.
All that said, the 49ers took a similar shot last offseason by signing Braylon Edwards.
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No one would sanely compare Edwards' career to Moss', but the two bring similar skill sets to the table -- they're both big, quick receivers who are at their best on deep routes. Edwards made 15 catches for 181 yards during an injury-plagued 2011 and was cut late in the year.
A lot of the fault there falls on Edwards' shoulders, but San Francisco also did not change its game plan much to utilize him.
The same approach won't fly with Moss, even if we assume that Harbaugh is the type of in-your-face coach that can keep Moss in line. If Moss proves during training camp and the preseason that he's still a capable wide receiver, he will demand some looks from Smith (or whomever winds up as the 49ers' QB). Whether or not this succeeds, you have to give San Francisco some credit for getting creative in an attempt to fix one of its glaring weaknesses. Plus, no matter the outcome, it will be fascinating to watch.