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Free agency's split personality: Manning, Moss at opposite ends

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Randy Moss has been as enigmatic as he has been electric throughout his career. (US Presswire)  
Randy Moss has been as enigmatic as he has been electric throughout his career. (US Presswire)  

One great is trying to come back from a physically devastating set of surgeries that have called into question his ability to ever play again. The other is trying to return from a wrecked career of his own making. There are questions about him, too.

Peyton Manning is on a free-agent tour being treated like a prom king. The only thing missing from Manning's visits is his name on the JumboTron and a recruiting hostess. Randy Moss is making the rounds as well, but instead of being greeted by private jets and public dreams, he's being met with extreme skepticism.

Their travels through the free-agent system are among the most interesting topics, aside from bounties, of this NFL offseason.

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It's possible Manning is the most physically gifted thrower in league history. It's also possible Moss is the most physically gifted wide receiver ever. But their paths back to the NFL will be drastically different.

Manning represents the free-agent gold standard, the Reggie White deluxe suite. Moss is the other end of the spectrum, the player once so frighteningly good he caused internal organs in the NFL to shift uncontrollably but eventually became lazy and uncaring, more cautionary tale than tail-kicker.

They are almost passing each other in the sky as each travels across the NFL landscape in an attempt to reenergize his career. In Denver, officials from the Broncos attempted to convince Manning to sign during a marathon six-hour meeting. The Broncos were convinced by Manning that his reconstructed neck and throwing motion would be fine, a person with knowledge of the meeting said.

At one point, Manning promised the Broncos his arm strength was rapidly improving, and if he came to Denver, the team would be getting the Manning of old. The Broncos were so impressed with Manning's determination, they don't intend -- for now -- to ask him to throw and prove his arm is fine.

That's the kind of power Manning carries. For some teams, his word is going to be more important than their own eyes.

Moss visited the Saints and had a fantastic workout. That much is known. Moss also faced some direct questioning from Saints officials about his work ethic, and while the Saints are still curious, they are also slightly skeptical. Unlike Manning, the wide receiver with massive baggage isn't getting the benefit of the doubt.

Manning has been to Denver and Arizona. Miami is likely next, with Kansas City to follow. All indications are Manning will make a decision by mid-week. Moss will work out for San Francisco on Monday. The 49ers are extremely interested, but again, equally skeptical. Like other teams before them, the 49ers imagine Moss providing another target for Alex Smith and opening up an already impressive running game.

Not everyone is thrilled with the Great Manning Iditarod Race. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, who was rebuffed by Eli Manning and the Manning family in 2004, had a few choice words when asked if he cared if Manning joined division rivals Denver or Kansas City. "I don't know and I really don't care," Smith told U-T San Diego. "I concentrate on the Chargers."

Smith added: "I do wish him the best in whatever the Manning family decides. I don't know why you would ask me. And I don't know why anyone is asking Peyton. If you really want to know what's going on -- what trips he's making and where he's going to play -- call Archie."

Wow ... wow. Ouch.

Manning will get the benefit of the doubt from everyone but Smith. Moss will again have to earn a team's trust. He has quit on almost every team he has played for, including the Raiders and Patriots. Just as important, there's a strong feeling around the sport that Moss' once formidable skills have drastically eroded.

Everyone will be watching Manning, even those who say they're fed up with this entire sweepstakes. But Moss will likely be second. He's not as intriguing, but it's damn close.

Who knows? Maybe they'll end up on the same team.

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