Over the years, quarterback and wide receiver have become the most heavily scrutinized positions in football. Maybe its because one can't ultimately be successful without the other? Maybe its because they tend to be the most outspoken players in locker rooms? Maybe both.
This piece is about the guys on the receiving end. Often the second most identifiable position in the game. You have the ones known for being flashy and outspoken like Terrell Owens, Chad (Johnson) Ochocinco, Randy Moss, Chris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson, and then you have your more workman-type receivers, Jerry Rice (pictured above), Marvin Harrison, Miles Austin, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, to name a few.
So the question is, which type makes for a better receiver? Its a damned good one too.
The mentality of a wide receiver is an interesting one. Johnson summed this up best with the title of his 1996 bestseller, Just Give Me the Damn Ball. While brash, you have to admire his confidence. Who wants a receiver that doesn't want the ball thrown to him? All of the great ones demanded the ball be thrown their way in pressure situations. When the "demanding" gets quotable, we have the difference between diva and workman.
The most glaring issue with an outspoken/diva receiver is the distraction factor. For some reason wide receivers more than any other position player have a way of attracting attention to themselves, for better or (most often) for worse.
A perfect example is Terrell Owens. Statistically, Owens is one of the greatest receivers in history and is a beast on the field, but his legacy is tainted by numerous controversies stemming from his untimely outspokenness to the media, and his cocky on-field persona. We have no problem with the cocky on the field antics, but publicly bad mouthing your quarterbacks and coaching staff is a no-no. In that same regard, you can have a Randy Moss or Chad (Johnson) Ochocinco type, receivers that have reputations as great locker room presences but are very flashy and demonstrative on the field. I think that's a fair trade for their production. Chris Carter and Hall of Famer Michael Irvin were very much the same way (just don't forget about that magic dust, ahem).
Then you have the less flashy, but just as productive wide receiver personalities, such as Rice, Tim Brown and in today's NFL, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the Houston Texans Andre Johnson. These are the type that go about their business week in and week out without creating waves, or headlines. I'd venture the average fan couldn't pick Johnson out of a lineup. (Fitzgerald is fairly recognizable. More plainly, he resembles Mr. Ed with dreadlocks.)
Former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Harrison was epitome of the "quiet/workman" group during his playing career. He scored 128 receiving TDs without a single memorable celebration. He was often praised for his quiet demeanor and workman-like approach to the game, and then... well...
Marvin had some legal trouble that shed light to a side of Harrison not consistent with being a workman. (Translation: He may or may not have shot a guy, and then may or may not have had him killed to prevent him from testifying. Allegedly.)
Back to the original question, what is the right mentality a receiver should have? When push comes to shove, which do you want on your side?
The NFL definitely has an opinion on the matter. They don't like the diva, no matter how talented or productive they may be. One of the most important ethos projected by the league is solidarity, and an unhappy wide receiver complaining about touches doesn't fit. Organizations have been willing to look past a number of character flaws, but insubordination isn't one of them.
Case in point, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall has been arrested for domestic violence, assaulting an officer, disorderly conduct, an driving under the influence. He's also caught 307 passes and scored 23 TDs from 2007-09 as a member of the Denver Broncos. Naturally, he signed a 4 year, $47 million ($24 million guaranteed) deal this off season.
Meanwhile, Owens, someone who has never been arrested or even accused of a crime, and is third all-time in receiving TDs, is playing on a one year, $2 million ($1 million guaranteed) deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. He didn't even have a contract until the last week of July.
Aside from the ten year age difference (Owens is 36, Marshall 26), there isn't a substantial reason Marshall should be making $23 million more in guaranteed money. Look at their 2010 production:
Marshall 2010 - 5 games, 37 catches, 467 yards, 1 TD
Owens 2010 - 5 games, 31 catches, 476 yards, 2 TD
Do you see a $23 million difference?
Yet, his detractors will say Owens is being paid more than enough money. They'll point out that for all his accomplishments, he's never won the Super Bowl. He's been called a team cancer for every team he's played for other than the Buffalo Bills. His touchdown celebrations are infamous. Plus he has the reality show ('The T.O. Show") that subsequently spawned another wide receiver centered show, "The Flavor of Ochocinco", err "Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch".
No one receiver should have all that power.
And that's really what it's about; power. There is only so much to go around on the football field, and it won't be going to the wide receiver any time soon.
That doesn't mean these guys don't know their self worth. Randy Moss publicly quit on two organizations (Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders) and may have privately quit on a third (New England Patriots) was able to have a trade orchestrated to bring him back to an organization (Vikings) he had already quit on. Moss caught Brett Favre's 300th career TD pass in his first game back with the Vikings. He set the single season TD record (23) by catching Tom Brady's 50th TD of the 2007 season. He, not Brady, was the key reason the 2007 New England Patriots became the first NFL team since the 1972 Dolphins to win 16 regular season games. He scored 47 TDs in the last three seasons alone. Moss does not have a contract for next season.
But Dallas Cowboys wideout Miles Austin does. Austin was an undrafted rookie out of Monmouth University in 2006. He stayed on the roster by playing special teams in Bill Parcells last season coaching the team. When Owens was released, he rose to the spotlight, outplaying his counterpart, Roy E. Williams, and earning an All-Pro nod this past season, his fourth in the league. He signed a 6 year, $54 million extension this offseason. $20 million guaranteed. Still, he's only scored 16 TDs in his entire career.
See what a little solidarity gets you?