That sound heard across the professional football landscape last Wednesday was one of two things. Either the Tennessee Titans set sail on what will be one of the most memorable eight-game voyages in franchise history, or they took the first turn toward drowning in a sea of rancor and locker room unrest.
One way or another, the addition of veteran wide receiver Randy Moss through waivers was a headfirst dive that will send ripples throughout the AFC over the next two months.
“The Titans aren’t really known for making too many big splashes,” fullback Ahmard Hall said. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of energy to this town, a lot of energy to this team.”
At the time of the addition, the Titans were ranked just 24th in the league in passing offense but first in scoring. Of the eight remaining games on their schedule, four are against teams ranked in the bottom five of the league in pass defense, including three against the two teams that had allowed more passing touchdowns than anyone else through the season’s first eight weeks.
Most analysis initially focused on the effect Moss could have on Tennessee’s running game, as he would discourage defenses from overloading the line of scrimmage to try to stop running back Chris Johnson. He ought to have plenty of opportunity to make the passing game more effective in its own right and expand all offensive options.
“I’m very excited about the situation, to play with a guy like that, and I’m very excited that he’ll back some of those guys out of the box,” Johnson said. “I know for a fact they can’t put all those guys in the box with that guy out there.”
The only other time the Titans attempted a similar addition was in 2000, when they added wide receiver Carl Pickens, who had eight productive but contentious seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Pickens was 30 years old at the time, three years younger than Moss is now, and was two years removed from his last 1,000-yard season. He never fit in with the team, and eventually coach Jeff Fisher buried him on the roster (Pickens was inactive for seven games in his one season with the Titans), and he caught just 10 passes before getting cut.
Other attempts to inject experience and explosiveness have been much more conservative, such as the free agent signing of David Givens in 2006, or more recently Justin Gage (2007) and Nate Washington (2009).
None of those players has the combination of size, speed and skill that Moss does. Of course, none had the consistent questions about character and commitment, either.
“I think it’s going to be great to have Randy here, a player of his caliber, expertise and experience,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “… From what I’ve heard from everybody else, he’s a great teammate, and I look forward to having him in our locker room.”
But outsiders will be watching to see whether it’s smooth sailing with a player who has a history of muddying the water.
“When I found out about it, I was like, ‘OK, it’s an addition that I think can be great for us,’ ” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “I have respected Randy’s play for a long time. Everybody says it’s up
or down or hit or miss, and you have to deal with all those issues.
“I think Coach Fisher said it himself. Anytime you have a chance to improve the roster, you need to try to make that move if you can. I think they had the opportunity and took full advantage of it.”