Recollections of Drafting Randy Moss on 25th Anniversary

2004 NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
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Time flies, and it’s hard for me to believe it was 25 years ago this week (April 18, 1998) that we selected future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss in the NFL Draft. That is my favorite draft memory from my NFL management career with the Vikings and Titans.  

It was an amazing experience in large part because, as Vikings GM at the time, I never thought we would have a chance to pick Moss at No. 21 in the first round (which was our spot as a playoff team the season before). When I attended the 1998 NFL Combine in Indianapolis with our player personnel execs, scouts, and coaches, Moss was not in attendance (which is never well received by team execs), so we were focused on other players, especially on defense as we already felt good about our offense.  

Recollections of Drafting Randy Moss on 25th Anniversary

Moss waited for his Pro Day a couple of weeks later at his college — Marshall — to showcase his outstanding ability for GMs, scouts, and coaches. We knew of Moss’ history and talent level and had him rated among the top five in that ’98 draft, which also produced his fellow Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, and Alan Faneca. 

We figured Moss would go in the top 10 and definitely not get past Dallas at No. 8. That was part of the thinking of Moss and his agent in deciding to skip the Combine and have a couple more weeks to train for his Pro Day. 

Recollections
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We sent one of our top scouts — Conrad Cardano — to the Marshall Pro Day on a 25-degree day in Huntington, West Virginia, and even in the cold weather, Moss put on a great show. 

It was the era of pre-electronic timing, and Cardano hand-timed him in the low 4.3s in the 40-yard dash while one team reportedly had him at 4.25 seconds. His 47-inch vertical jump that day is one of the highest on record among NFL prospects during the pre-draft period. He was top of the charts on all his other agility drills and terrific in his pass-catching drills. 

There was not the usual high number of teams at this workout of a top prospect which seemed to be an early indication that many teams would not consider drafting Moss due to character concerns. 

There was a bad fight back in high school when he was defending a friend. That caused Notre Dame to revoke his scholarship offer. He signed with Florida State but was kicked out after allegedly failing a drug test. Moss landed at smaller-school Marshall and was a dominant player (174 catches for 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns over two seasons).  

important day
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We were fortunate that Cardano had coached under Marshall Coach Bob Pruett and was close with him and other members of the coaching staff. They told Cardano—and he relayed the info to us—that Moss had been fine on and off the field behavior-wise in his Marshall years.  

We always believed in drafting the best player available regardless of position at our spot, especially in the first round (unless it was a QB with the highest grade and if we already had a top QB). When Dallas passed on Moss, reportedly due to character concerns, and selected defensive end Greg Ellis, I thought hmmm, this is interesting.  

The draft free-fall began for Moss, and when Tennessee took  Kevin Dyson as the first wide receiver at No. 16, we then had an intense discussion in our draft room about taking Moss. As I said, Cardano was willing to take a stand in favor of picking Moss as an elite player, and I always respected Cardano for not being wishy-washy as many scouts tend to be.  

Head Coach Dennis Green and offensive coordinator Brian Billick pushed for Moss even though we already had two excellent thousand-yard receivers in future Hall of Famer Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Moss was at the top of our draft board ratings, so I and our top player personnel men — Frank Gilliam, Jerry Reichow, and Scott Studwell — agreed we should go with Moss if he made it to our pick. We also liked Vonnie Holiday, who the Packers picked at No. 19, and talked about safety Tebucky Jones who the Patriots picked right after us.  

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When we were one pick away, Green and I called Carter, and I asked if he would be willing to mentor  Moss if we drafted him. Cris said, “Yes, absolutely.” He said he knew how explosive our offense would be with a three wide receiver base offense and receivers at the skill level of himself, Reed, and Moss. 

We picked Moss, and our draft room was as excited as I’ve ever seen it. Then I had to get him signed to his rookie contract before he could report to training camp in Mankato. His agents argued that we should pay him at a top-10 pick level which I couldn’t do with the rookie pool and his No. 21 slot.  

I also wanted a very tough contract clause with a significant signing bonus giveback if he was ever suspended by the NFL or arrested for off-field issues. He ultimately agreed to the clause, and it never had to be enforced.  

In a humorous aftermath, I called Moss to congratulate him after he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, and he said to me, “I told you I would never do anything to force you to put that clause on signing bonus giveback into effect.”  I said, “I’m surprised you remember it 20 years later.”  

Randy Moss
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What a memorable rookie season and career Randy Moss had! I’ll never forget his amazing performance on a Monday night game in the rain at Lambeau (five catches, 190 yards, two TDs) as we ended the Packers’ 25-game home winning streak and his revenge game against the Cowboys (for not picking him as he felt they promised) on Thanksgiving in Dallas with three long TD catches for 163 yards.  

Moss had 69 receptions for 1,311 yards and 17 TD passes in 1998 and was named Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year. He was a huge part of our record-breaking offense in that 15-1 season which fell just short of the Super Bowl when we lost in overtime to Atlanta in the NFC title game.  

With his great size at 6-4, outstanding speed, and leaping ability, Moss had seven tremendous seasons in Minnesota. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and made it to the Super Bowl in 2007 with the Patriots when he caught an NFL-record 23 TD passes from Tom Brady. It all started in that draft 25 years ago.  

Around the NFL Observations: 

1. The Vikings’ offseason program opened this week with no Za’Darius Smith or Dalvin Cook participating as the Vikings continue to sort out whether to trade or release them (or keep them under their current salaries or possibly restructure their contracts to save cap room, neither of which seems very likely). 

2. Bills safety Damar Hamlin is returning to football after his scary cardiac arrest suffered in a January 2 game. Team doctors have cleared him to play again, calling it a rare case, and Hamlin is determined to overcome his adversity, saying, “My heart is still in it. I love the game. It’s something I want to prove to myself, and I want to show people that fear is a choice.”  

Damar Hamlin
A painting and other items to honor Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. © Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

3. The latest big quarterback signing is Jalen Hurts’ five-year, $255 extension ($179 million guaranteed) with the Eagles, making him the highest-paid NFL player per year at $51 million per year. That is until Joe Burrow is extended by the Bengals this year, or perhaps the Chiefs will adjust Patrick Mahomes’ long-term deal to make him deservedly the highest-paid QB.  

Hurts has had only one big season, but it was fantastic with a Super Bowl appearance, making his first Pro Bowl and finishing second in the MVP voting. It seems this is another signing that makes it tougher for the Vikings to reach an agreement with Kirk Cousins on extending his current $35 million per year deal that is up after this coming season. Or perhaps the Vikings are strongly considering drafting a young QB in the first round such as Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and moving on from Cousins and his high salaries after 2023 and building a strong team around a younger, cheaper QB. We’ll know more about Cousins’ future in Minnesota after the draft. 

I’ll have more thoughts on the Vikings draft possibilities next week as we approach the April 27-29 NFL Draft.    


Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl

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