Commentary

Owens' role model? Randy Moss

Updated: March 11, 2009, 4:09 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

March 5, 2004. The topic is Terrell Owens. The expert is Dr. Harry Edwards, the noted sociologist and longtime consultant with the San Francisco 49ers.

"This young man has never had one iota of trouble with women, drugs, violence, anything like that," Edwards tells the Baltimore Sun. "You're not going to get that with Terrell. What you are going to get is the kind of behavior on the field that his generation celebrates. It's cultural. You're not going to change it. ... You just have to manage it. Terrell is not of the same generation as Lynn Swann and Jerry Rice. He is of the generation of Randy Moss..." Generation of Randy Moss.

And now in the same division as Moss.

With T.O.'s arrival in Buffalo, the AFC East has become the landfill of past and present problem star wide receivers. This is the division where Al Davis, the ultimate risk taker, backed up the Silver and Black dump truck and dropped the then-30-year-old Moss into the laps of the New England Patriots -- the same Patriots organization that wouldn't touch Moss with a 10-foot down marker when he came out of college in 1998.

Not even Davis could put up with Moss, which is saying something. The Oakland Raiders got just a fourth-round pick from the Patriots and used it on a University of Cincinnati cornerback who has one tackle in two seasons.

Meanwhile, a revitalized Moss led the world in touchdown receptions and 40-plus-yard catches as the Patriots came within a David Tyree miracle of a perfect season. They're 29-6 in Moss' two seasons in New England. And he's been a model football citizen.

Owens' career is where Moss' was two seasons ago: in question, in transition and a bit in shambles. Moss was smart enough to realize he was running out of chances. Will Owens?

The Bills will be Owens' fourth team in seven years. Owens couldn't even survive in Dallas, where Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- T.O.'s personal enabler -- was convinced to hit the eject button after three non-playoff, controversy-drenched seasons.

Jones insists that he didn't cut Owens because of anything T.O. said or did. He cut him, Jones recently told the NFL Network, because it was a "strategic move relative to personnel."

Oh, I see. A strategic move relative to personnel. Jones simply wants to integrate wide receiver Roy Williams, who cost the Cowboys a first-, third- and sixth-round pick, as the centerpiece of the passing offense. Jones loves Owens. Really. But he's got Williams and, you know, it just wasn't going to work out with T.O. and Williams on the same field.

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It makes perfect sense, except the part that doesn't -- which is pretty much anything that comes out of Jones' mouth relative to T.O.

Jones can spin it any way he wants, but it really comes down to this: Owens' numbers and skill set are tracking downward and he wasn't worth the trouble anymore.

In other words, T.O., he's just not that into you.

For Jones to say he took about a $9 million salary cap hit because there wasn't a place in the starting lineup for both Owens and Williams is beyond dumb. So that means Jones would break up Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, Marques Colston and Lance Moore, Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward, and Wes Welker and Moss? Of course not.

Owens is a former Cowboy for pretty much the same reasons he was a former Philadelphia Eagle: He thinks the NFL revolves around him, not the other way around. Cultural, generational ... whatever, Owens' way isn't working. I would have cut him too, but at least I would have been honest about it.

Owens is five years older (35), slower, perhaps even more damaged goods than Moss was in 2007, but he has the same golden opportunity, probably his last, to do what The Freak did with the Patriots: put an icepack on his ego and let the swelling go down.

In Buffalo, the second-smallest market in the league, Owens can rehab his reputation in relative quiet. No Ed Werder there. He can burn off his image warts. He can reinvent himself the same way Moss reinvented himself under Bill Belichick and the no-nonsense, we're-all-accountable culture of the Patriots.

The Bills aren't the Patriots. They don't have the kind of infrastructure that comes with playing in four of the past eight Super Bowls and winning three of them. Buffalo hasn't reached the playoffs since 1999 and hasn't won a postseason game since 1995. So they're willing to take a flier on Owens (a one-year deal worth $6.5M), as opposed to the Patriots, who signed Moss for about $3 million in salary and inserted a conduct clause in the contract.

Moss had character issues coming out of college. And while with the Minnesota Vikings, he pretended to moon opposing fans, confronted a traffic officer, left the field before the end of a game, verbally abused game officials, squirted water at a side judge, said he didn't think the Vikes would reach the Super Bowl and once announced, "I play when I want to play." As a Raider, Moss openly criticized the franchise.

Owens warred with his quarterbacks at San Francisco (Jeff Garcia) and Philly (Donovan McNabb), and cracked wise about Tony Romo's girlfriend, Jessica Simpson. He spat in DeAngelo Hall's face. As a 49er, he once danced on the Cowboys' logo. He clashed with Dallas coaches, including Todd Haley, Bill Parcells and Jason Garrett. He implied there was a conspiracy between Romo, tight end Jason Witten and offensive coordinator Garrett. He fell asleep in team meetings. He wept during postgame interviews. He dropped passes. He helped fracture locker rooms.

Now here he is in Buffalo, of all places, saying he plays for "North America's Team." From the Big D to the Little B.

But there's hope. Moss pulled out of his career nosedive and landed softly on New England's runway. If Owens is smart -- a big if -- he'll use Moss as his flight instructor.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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