For the Baltimore Ravens, the salient point came late in the second quarter Monday night when Steve McNair looped a fade into the corner of the end zone and watched helplessly as the pass was intercepted by Denver's Champ Bailey. McNair's intended target, Clarence Moore, never had a chance.
Someone else might have. And that someone, Randy Moss, could be available.
With the NFL's trade deadline looming, it's the move that should be made. Not necessarily one that will be pulled off or one that has been discussed (thus far, it hasn't). But it's one that would make a difference. For a Ravens team that has been woeful in the red zone and lacking in explosive plays in the passing game, Moss could make a difference. And between now and Oct. 17, there may not be a better player who lands on the trading block.
"He's still a fine, fine player," said one AFC West personnel man. "He had his shots [in 2005]. I'm not sure he played a game where he wasn't hurt. He looked hurt. In certain situations, he just looked that way, like guys do when they're protecting their bodies. I really think he was hurt all year. But yeah, I do think he's still one of the best there is when he's healthy."
Moss indeed played the 2005 season with several nagging injuries. But he's at full health now – and making it known to anyone that will listen that he wants out of the Oakland organization.
"He's a frustrated guy on a struggling team," the personnel man said. "They are all struggling. I don't know how to say it any better. That doesn't mean he's not the Randy Moss anymore. There are a lot of mistakes, whether it's the throw coming a tick late or the line breaking down, or [Moss] not changing his route down according to what's happening.
"What he's going through right now, it's not any one thing. … Think about it this way: What happened with [Texans wideout Andre] Johnson last year in Houston? I could probably show you six or seven things that were tied up in that [poor] season he had. He didn't just all of the sudden become a bum. Look at [Johnson] now. It's the same deal with Moss. He didn't become a bum over night."
You wouldn't know it from his numbers. Moss has gone through the worst four-game stretch of his career, catching 12 balls for 136 yards and two touchdowns – all in Oakland losses. And now he's taking his shots off the field, too. From former Raider Howie Long suggesting Moss has lost his passion for the game to Carolina Panthers receiver Keyshawn Johnson intimating Moss' status as a player has been marginalized.
"Randy Moss wanted out of Minnesota? Oh well," Johnson told Carolina reporters last week. "Four years ago, he was the best wide receiver in the NFL. Now you can't get a pack of gum for him."
It might take slightly more than that, although the Raiders haven't given any signs that they are open to trading Moss. If they are, Baltimore should have Al Davis on speed dial. Because for all the talk about the ailing offensive line and ineffectiveness of Jamal Lewis, the reality is that Baltimore's wide receivers lack an explosive element.
Derrick Mason, though still a quality option, looks more like a strong possession receiver. And Mark Clayton continues to look like a work in progress at best. As a whole, the Ravens' wideouts have five receptions of 20-plus yards in five games, and zero touchdown catches. All five of McNair's passing scores this season have gone to tight ends Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox. Adding Moss to that mix would, at least in theory, provide a deep complement that he hasn't had this season.
It's a trade that makes sense. The Ravens showed a willingness to take a gamble on a talented but moody wideout when they sought Terrell Owens in 2004. And with Moss due $21 million in base salary in 2007 and 2008, it's a short-term gamble, since he's likely to get cut and never earn that cash, anyway. But it's a quick fix that fits the scenario, with Baltimore's Super Bowl window about to slam shut.
Beyond Moss just giving Baltimore's offense a wrinkle it doesn't possess, he played for coach Brian Billick in 1998. Billick was the offensive coordinator of the Vikings, who scored a league-record 556 points that season. Even more, Moss is motivated to leave Oakland, which means he will likely be willing to restructure the remaining $5.7 million in salary he is owed this season to help fit under the salary cap.
Of course, it's all meaningless unless the Ravens have the guts to take a leap, and the Raiders are willing to pick up the phone. History says that just because a trade makes sense doesn't mean it will happen. But of all the ones that seem to fit, this one deserves a shot.
Here are five other players who should – but likely won't – be dealt before Tuesday's trade deadline.
Yeah, yeah. We know. It's never going to happen. But if it did, it wouldn't be the first time we saw a fading future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback attempt to resurrect his career in Kansas City (Joe Montana, anyone?). Yes, it's more of a pipedream trade. Not only would it take some serious contract restructuring on both the part of the Chiefs and Favre, it would be a healthy gamble for both teams. Damon Huard has been solid in back-to-back games for the Chiefs, and if he leads them to a win over Pittsburgh this week, he may hold the starter's job for the rest of the season. And as we all know, trading Favre out of Green Bay would turn an already disenchanted fan base ugly.
But clearly, Green Bay's rebuilding process has begun – regardless of what role Favre is taking in the project. If Aaron Rodgers is the future, then it's best to let him get extensive game experience with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver sooner rather than later. As for the Chiefs, hanging their hat on the 33-year old Huard or Trent Green (if and when he does return) is no more risky than bringing in Favre midstream and seeing if he can spark some magic with a solid offensive line, a Pro Bowl tight end (Tony Gonzalez) and one of the NFL's best running backs (Larry Johnson) surrounding him. Clearly, he wouldn't be a long-term answer. But the change in scenery and renewed shot at the Super Bowl might get Favre to stick around just a little bit longer.
The Falcons are expected to put the highest possible tender on Schaub as a restricted free agent and keep him through 2007. But once he enters that season, some of the franchise's trade leverage is gone, as any interested teams know they could make a run at Schaub as an unrestricted free agent. If it weren't for Michael Vick's always-looming health issues, the 6-foot-5 Schaub might have been dealt last season, when his trade value appeared to be at its peak. That said, there remains a robust market for him. He's a player who has plenty of arm strength and deceiving mobility for a player his size. And say what you want about the long-term prospects of Andrew Walter, Schaub is a ready-made starter.
Schaub is going to have to get comfortable in the role and have an offense built around him. But despite all the issues with the offensive line and the running game, the Raiders still have an opportunity at a relatively quick fix particularly if the club holds onto Moss and tweaks its offensive scheme. Even if it lands the No. 1 pick in the draft, Oakland would be looking at a long-term rebuild if it selected Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Schaub comes with a costly price tag (a first-round pick alone won't do it), but he's already shown a skill set capable of succeeding on the NFL level.
Brown becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so anyone who comes calling isn't on the hook for a long-term commitment. That makes him a perfect fit for the Seahawks, who are looking for a veteran insurance policy after Shaun Alexander's first serious injury of his career. And with all due respect to the combination of Mack Strong and Maurice Morris, Brown would give Seattle something it doesn't have: an every-down back who can spell Alexander without changing the complexion of the offense.
Considering the Seahawks are still in the midst of their Super Bowl window, picking up some added depth for the long haul is a prudent move. Brown is big and fits Seattle's running style, and at 25 years old, could even be considered as a long-term backup if the Seahawks like what they see. What's more, his fallout with the front office and early-season toe injury (he's healthy now) has left him on the outs in Tennessee's backfield. Translation: he can be had cheap.
Like Schaub in Atlanta, Turner won't be in San Diego much longer. And also like Schaub, he's going to draw his team's highest possible tender this offseason as a restricted free agent. Which means he'll likely be back in a San Diego through 2007. But that doesn't mean he won't draw any interest before the trading deadline. Turner has a growing flock of fans throughout the league, who think the powerful back is going to be a star once he moves out of LaDainian Tomlinson's shadow and becomes a starter elsewhere. And the Chargers value him enough to have actively sought ways over the last two seasons to get him more involved in the offense. This year, they're finally doing it.
Whether that means the 24-year old Turner is untouchable is another matter. For a team like the Texans, who are in shambles at the running back spot, acquiring Turner now would mean jumpstarting next season's offensive progression, and forgoing another gamble in the draft. It would also mean getting him before his talents continue to be showcased through the remainder of 2006. The price tag? Few teams are willing to trade a first-round pick for running backs these days, and this probably isn't an exception. It would likely take a package of picks, including a second rounder.
Why he's still on Oakland's roster is anyone's guess. It smacks of another example of Al Davis leaving a player to rot when he could be starting somewhere else. And yes, Porter is talented enough to be starting somewhere in the NFL. In fact, at 28, Porter could still be a commanding wideout in the right system for another 4-5 years. Particularly in Minnesota, where he would likely get double-digit looks on a regular basis in Brad Childress' West Coast scheme. Porter has some familiarity with the offense, so it shouldn't take him a great deal of time to adapt, either.
Whether the Vikings would want to bring aboard another potential attitude is another issue. Minnesota has had its fill of moody wideouts who have had issues with staying disciplined on the field – not to mention off it. But the current corps of wideouts lacks a dependable veteran presence who could give them solid and consistent production. When motivated, Porter can be that guy. And with the passing offense struggling to put points on the board (one touchdown between the starting tandem of Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor), finding a consistent No. 1 option has the potential to make a difference.