Philadelphia, PA – To say that the San Francisco 49ers need help at the wide receiver position would be like casually mentioning that Michael Jackson sold a few records.
In two playoff games last season for the NFC West champion Niners, quarterback Alex Smith completed 23 of his 36 passes to either running back Frank Gore or tight end Vernon Davis. Only eight of them went to a wide receiver, led by Michael Crabtree's five.
In fact, during San Francisco's 20-17 setback to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game, Smith completed just one pass to a wide receiver, a 3- yard reception by Crabtree.
So it went without saying that the 49ers, coming off a 13-3 season, were going to be active in upgrading the group in free agency.
What was surprising is that San Francisco got a head start with the position enhancement by signing enigma Randy Moss to a one-year deal Monday night. Moss returns to the NFL after sitting out all of last season following a disappointing 13th season in 2010 in which he played for three teams and made just 28 catches.
Hopefully Moss' tenure with the 49ers goes better than his last trip to the Bay.
After making a name for himself with the Minnesota Vikings, Moss was traded to the Raiders before the 2005 season and spent two campaigns in Oakland that translated into a 6-26 record. Moss essentially played his way out of town, hauling in just 42 passes with three touchdowns in '06 before getting traded to the New England Patriots. He went on to form a dangerous tandem with quarterback Tom Brady as the duo broke a number of records together.
Needless to say, the Bay Area won't be littered with Black and Silver No. 18 Moss jerseys anytime soon. That won't matter to the 49ers, who made a low-risk move to bring in a hopefully motivated Moss. If they can get even decent production out of Moss, it should translate into another division title.
"I had personal reasons outside of football to step away from the game," Moss said in a conference call on Monday night. "I think it was a family decision to get back in the game because I still love the game and still think I can play at a high level and I'm passionate about the game of football."
The 35-year-old Moss didn't want to get into details about his doomed 2010 season, one that saw him suit up for the Patriots, Vikings and Tennessee Titans, but he sounds like a man ready to make plays on the field once again and said his decision to join the up-and-coming Niners was "really a no- brainer."
San Francisco hopes it will agree.
"I think I can still play at a high level," Moss said. "So I look forward to learning the offense and getting with the group of guys in the locker room and learning what my role is going to be on this team. Like I said, I accept the challenge, and I'm ready to bring the fans out of their seats."
Few could blame the 49ers if they were cautious in bringing in a player with Moss' reputation. They made a similar move late last offseason by signing wide receiver Braylon Edwards, a player who had numerous off-the-field incidents before coming to town. The union didn't pan out, with Edwards battling injury and logging just 15 receptions over nine games before his release on Dec. 27.
Moss, who announced on his birthday on Feb. 13 his plan to come out of retirement, will come with baggage as well. He has a reputation for quitting on the field and no matter what kind of numbers he ends up with in his career, the image of him mooning the Packers fans during a playoff game while with the Vikings in the 2005 playoffs will always be linked to his bio.
Moss downplayed his reputation Monday night and how he would fit into the blue-collar system run by San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh.
"Well, the thing about me being here is they've done their research on me," Moss said. "And I think when it comes to the world-wide sports media, I've gotten a bad rap. They've done their homework on me or they wouldn't have brought me in here."
Moss said he also is looking forward to helping out the 49ers' young receivers, a group that includes the 24-year-old Crabtree, 23-year-old Kyle Williams and a pair of 26-year-olds in Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan who are both free agents.
"I like what I'm able to give back to football and the NFL," Moss said. "If those guys are willing to accept me as a teammate, come here and make this thing happen, then I'm ready to give back anything I have: my knowledge, my work ethic and all of the above. I look forward to going out and working with these young guys, and coaches included."
At the very least, the 49ers will hope that Moss can clue Crabtree in on the secret to being a game-changing wide receiver. San Francisco invested heavily in the Texas Tech product when it selected him 10th overall in the 2009 draft and Crabtree showed signs last season of moving forward after grabbing 72 passes for 874 yards. Still, just 12 touchdowns in three seasons is leaving something to be desired.
Moss, meanwhile, knows a little something about finding the end zone. He has logged 153 touchdowns in his career, including a staggering NFL-record 23 in 2007 with the Patriots. He has topped 1,300 receiving yards six times and broken the 1,000-yard mark in 10 seasons.
That addition of the seven-time Pro Bowl selection also could make San Francisco a desirable location should the Niners choose to pursue another free agent wideout.
As for Moss himself, he is just looking forward to putting together a productive season. The rest will work itself out.
"Man, I just want to play football. Once the season starts and once it ends, we'll decide where things are going to go after that," Moss said. "So I'll just take it one game, and one day at a time and we'll see what happens at the end of the run."