Best days behind Moss?

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

Beneath the excitement of Randy Moss being traded to the New England Patriots is a lingering question: Is Moss any good anymore?

Until a year ago, such a question might have been considered heresy. Questioning his attitude might have been fair, but not his tremendous speed and athletic grace. Nor should anyone have challenged his ability to overwhelm defenses in a few explosive strides.

But given that New England got Moss from the Oakland Raiders for only a fourth-round draft is telling. Fact is, few teams (the Green Bay Packers were reportedly the only other team in the Moss market) were even sniffing around. Even more, the Patriots traded a second- and seventh-round pick for Wes Welker earlier this offseason.

That's right, Moss – who commanded two draft picks (first and seventh) and a veteran player (Napoleon Harris) just two years ago when he went from the Minnesota Vikings to Oakland – is worth less than Welker. That's not exactly accurate as Moss probably makes double of Welker's salary, but the point remains: Moss' value has decreased.

Certainly in this age of character concern, it's telling when an organization such as Oakland gives up on a player. Over the years, Al Davis has collected troubled souls as if he were doing a remake of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" rather than building a football team. The fact that Moss couldn't make it work in Oakland is a stunning indictment.

But Moss' Enron-like fall from grace goes beyond just character. Don't forget, only three years ago in 2004, the Patriots made a similar move to get running back Corey Dillon from the Cincinnati Bengals. Dillon came with extensive baggage, but still commanded a second-round pick.

In that same time span, Moss has become little more than a JAG. In scouting vernacular that's a term for "Just A Guy," a random player who is roster flotsam. That's a bit of overstatement, but not by much.

Last season, Moss had a career-low 42 catches, 553 yards and three scores. Moss doesn't get all the blame as the Raiders struggled with the worst offense in the NFL under coach Art Shell. The year before, Moss had a pedestrian 60 catches for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns even though he was supposed to be the focal point of Norv Turner's offense. In 2004, Moss was limited to 49 catches, 767 yards and 13 touchdowns as he played in only 13 games because of injuries.

As one of his former coaches said last offseason: "Randy thinks he's still a great player, but he can't run anymore. He doesn't work at it. All those nagging injuries are catching up with him."

Former teammates, such as Cris Carter, have said the same thing about Moss' work ethic for years. Furthermore, Moss is no longer the whippit-shaped wunderkind of his youth. His body has gotten thicker. Not fat, but thick.

Of course, there was a news bit last week that Moss recently ran a 4.3 40 while training in Boca Raton, Fla.

Hopefully that's true. Hopefully Moss can regain the skill that allowed him to dominate over the first six seasons of his career, when he had at least 1,200 yards a year and had a total of 75 touchdowns while playing for Minnesota.

If it is, New England will have made yet another great acquisition in an offseason dedicated to winning a Super Bowl. The Patriots have grabbed linebacker Adalius Thomas and three other wide receivers aside from Moss: Welker, Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington.

If Moss is healthy, the Patriots have one of the most stunning collections of deep threats in the league. Moss might have deep issues with dealing with authority, but the Patriots have dealt with players like that in the past.

That's because coach Bill Belichick learned long ago from mentor Bill Parcells that talent can sometimes trump character. Parcells made that work with Lawrence Taylor with the New York Giants. Belichick made it work with Dillon.

Now, he'll try with Moss, who has reportedly agreed to a restructured contract as part of the trade. As with Thomas, who took less money to play for New England, the opportunity to win a title and play with the likes of Tom Brady can sometimes inspire players like Moss to perform at a higher level.

That is, if that player can reach that higher level again.