June 18, 2014

1997: Andre Rison Signs with Chiefs

On June 18, 1997, free agent WR Andre Rison signed a two-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, having earlier been released by the Packers. With ex-49er backup Elvis Grbac replacing Steve Bono as the starting quarterback, Kansas City was looking to upgrade the receiving corps.

Rison had originally been drafted out of Michigan State in the first round in 1989 by the Indianapolis Colts. He showed promise as a rookie, catching 52 passes for 820 yards, but was dealt to Atlanta as part of the trade for the first overall draft choice in 1990 that was used to obtain Illinois QB Jeff George. Rison was an excellent fit with the Falcons, who utilized a “run-and-shoot” offense (called, in this instance, the Red Gun). He was able to accelerate quickly and had excellent body control and receiving ability.

Typically utilized as an inside receiver, in the five seasons from 1990 to ’94 Rison caught 423 passes for 5633 yards (13.3 avg.) and scored 56 touchdowns. He had over a thousand receiving yards in all but one year (and in that one, 1991, he gained 976) and reached double-digits in TD catches in each of his first four years with a league-leading 15 in 1993. The leader of a productive group of receivers, Rison was chosen to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in Atlanta and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1990.

To be sure, it was not always a perfect situation for Rison in Atlanta. Complaints about the brash wide receiver nicknamed “Bad Moon” ranged from lack of discipline in running his pass routes to being a disruptive presence off the field. The team as a whole was not so successful, finishing with just one winning record during the time Rison was there.

Rison signed a five-year, $17 million free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns in 1995 amid high expectations. The Browns, under Head Coach Bill Belichick, were coming off of an 11-5 playoff year and looking to contend, but it all turned sour, particularly in the second half of the season after it was announced that the franchise would be moving to Baltimore in ’96. Rison proved to be a poor fit in the conservative offense and his production dropped off accordingly – he caught just 47 passes for 701 yards and three TDs. Moreover, he frequently complained about the offense in general and QB Vinny Testaverde in particular, and drew further ire from the fans when he made critical comments about them as well.

Waived during the offseason, Rison signed with Jacksonville for 1996. However, he was released after 10 games and 34 catches for 548 yards, with Head Coach Tom Coughlin citing him for a lack of performance.  He caught on with the Packers to fill in for injured WR Robert Brooks and performed ably during Green Bay’s 8-0 run to a NFL Championship. Rison caught 13 passes for 135 yards and a TD in the last five games of the regular season and then added 7 receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs, including the first score in Super Bowl XXXI on a pass from QB Brett Favre that covered 54 yards.

With Brooks returning for 1997, Rison no longer fit in Green Bay’s plans. After eight seasons, he had caught 569 passes for 7747 yards and been to the Pro Bowl four times, but had been more of a journeyman over the previous two years, playing for three different teams and quickly wearing out his welcome with two of them.

The 30-year-old Rison revived his flagging career with Kansas City. More low-key off the field, he produced more on it, catching 72 passes for 1092 yards (15.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns despite being heavily double-covered. The receiving total was his best since 1993 with the Falcons, and it was also his first thousand-yard season since that year. He had two hundred-yard receiving games along the way, with a high of 162 on eight catches against the Raiders, and added eight receptions for 110 yards in the playoff loss to Denver.  Rison was voted club MVP and received Pro Bowl honors.

The 1997 comeback proved to be something of a last hurrah for Rison. The Chiefs dropped to 7-9 in 1998 and Rison’s receiving numbers dropped to 40 catches for 542 yards and five TDs. After one last year in Kansas City, he moved on to the Oakland Raiders for his final NFL season in 2000 and then played two years for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, catching 15 passes for 178 yards in limited action.

Over the course of twelve years in the NFL, Rison ended up with 743 catches for 10,205 yards (13.7 avg.) and 84 touchdowns (scoring at least one with all seven teams for which he played), all Top 20 career numbers at the time. Most of that came in his first six seasons, especially when playing in Atlanta’s Red Gun offense, but the first year in Kansas City was a productive one. Rison’s flamboyance and off-field problems often distracted from his talent and ability as a wide receiver, but at his best, he was a significant performer at the position.