Even after a year away. Even at age 35. Even with a reputation he says isn’t all it’s made out to be.
Moss is getting a another chance in the NFL, signing a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers on Monday only hours after he worked out for the team and with former NFL quarterback and current coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I’m not a free agent. I’m a guy straight off the couch, straight off the street,” Moss said. “One thing I want the sports world to understand is the love and passion I have for football.”
Moss will fill a big void for the reigning NFC West champions in Harbaugh’s version of the West Coast offense.
While he didn’t go as far as to promise not to pout when times are tough, he did say all the right things, and that he plans to be a positive presence in a locker room known for its blue-collar, unselfish approach. Moss has no interest in reflecting on his past, either.
This is a fresh start.
“The thing about me being here is they’ve done their research on me. When it comes to the worldwide sports media, I’ve gotten a bad rap,” Moss said. “They’ve done their homework on me or they wouldn’t have brought me in here. … (The questions were) more of me not being a team player and things like that. I don’t want to get into that.”
Moss got a good vibe about the organization from the moment he was picked up at the airport Sunday night, calling it a “no-brainer” to sign. He said the organization quickly decided to “pull the trigger” — and it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for San Francisco.
“Harbaugh is a young, enthusiastic coach. I love enthusiasm,” Moss said. “A lot of things stood out to me.”
It seems Harbaugh’s throws were on target, too.
“Jim Harbaugh makes 49ers veteran emergency board: Best coach’s workout in NFL history (especially while wearing khakis & a sweatshirt),” Niners CEO Jed York tweeted.
Moss, who worked out last Tuesday with the New Orleans Saints, spent a year out of football and last played for New England, Minnesota and Tennessee during a rocky 2010 season.
He said he enjoyed playing catch with Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL pro in his day.
“Yes, he can still bring it at his old age. I don’t know, he’s probably sitting there with an ice pack or something on his shoulder right now,” Moss said. “He can still wing it.”
The 49ers can sure use him. San Francisco’s receivers managed just one catch for 3 yards in a 20-17 loss in the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants at Candlestick Park on Jan. 22.
York told reporters earlier Monday at team headquarters his team needed “someone to stretch the field.” The athletic, 6-foot-4 Moss fits the bill.
Moss said he initially retired for “personal reasons outside of football” and considered making a comeback late in the 2011 season before ultimately deciding to give his body more time to train. He suffered a shoulder injury during 2010 with New England.
Moss always believed he could still perform.
“It was a decision to get back in the game because I still love the game and think I can play at a high level,” he said. “It was obvious they liked what they saw. I don’t want to let them down.”
The 49ers also are working to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, and have reportedly made him a three-year offer. Smith’s representatives haven’t returned multiple messages seeking an update on the status of negotiations.
“Alex is trying to figure out what he wants to do,” York said. “There have been good conversations back and forth.”
If Moss proves himself during workouts this spring and training camp, he could be a viable deep threat that San Francisco hoped it had in Braylon Edwards last season.
The 49ers cut ties with Edwards in December. Joshua Morgan broke a bone in his lower leg Oct. 9 against Tampa Bay and later had surgery to have screws inserted and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Morgan is expected to generate his share of interest in free agency, and receiver and return man Ted Ginn Jr. might not return.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco’s 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft, had 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. San Francisco went 13-3 and ended an eight-year drought without a playoff berth or winning record.
Moss’ best season came for the Patriots in 2007, when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a single-season record 23 touchdowns in helping New England to a 16-0 regular-season record. He has 954 catches for 14,858 yards and 153 TDs in his 13-year career, which included a stint in the Bay Area with the Oakland Raiders in 2005 and ’06 where he produced little on the field.
Running back Anthony Dixon watched Moss’ workout Monday, and came away giddy.
“Randy Moss done linked up with us. Oh it’s about to get scary like the end of October!” Dixon tweeted.
Moss has had more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season 10 times, second only to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who accomplished the feat 14 times.
Moss hasn’t lost his swagger.
“I accept the challenge and I’m ready to bring the fans out of their seats,” he said, noting he considers this a chance to give back to the game. “I like what I can do for the NFL. I don’t like what the NFL can do for me.” ESPN first reported the move a day before the start of the free agency period.