Near-certain trade of Moss is a head-scratcher
Maybe Randy Moss(notes) became too big of a pain in the neck for Bill Belichick to deal with. Or maybe Belichick has lost the cutthroat competitiveness that attracted him to Moss in the first place as he sought another Super Bowl.
Or maybe, at 33, Moss is grading out so poorly on New England coaching tapes that they no longer think he stretches defenses enough to keep around.
Something happened over the first four weeks of the season because the Patriots are 3-1, have already played their two toughest divisional road games (New York Jets, Miami) and still have likely victories against Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo coming. This club has no reason not to think playoffs.
So why trade Randy Moss now?
According to foxsports.com, the Patriots are in talks about dealing Moss to the Minnesota Vikings. At this point, they might as well ship him out since this is probably too far down the line, and too public, for Moss to ever return.
No one knows what the Vikings are offering but unless it’s the injured Sidney Rice(notes) (and it isn’t) New England isn’t getting fair on-field value. Based on Minnesota opening a spot on its roster Tuesday, draft picks are more likely.
Based on conventional football opinion, the Patriots can’t possibly be a better offense without Randy Moss, who is still a serious deep threat.
So there has to be more. Yes, Moss is in the final year of his contract and has said if he isn’t offered an in-season extension he’ll leave the franchise in February. Trading Moss now allows the Patriots to get some value on a receiver they are likely to lose anyway.
That’s a rather un-Belichickian way to look at this team though.
While the Patriots coach has a history of dumping players the moment he doesn’t believe they are capable of helping, that’s usually in the offseason, not Week 5 of a promising season.
This is when you try to acquire a Randy Moss. Belichick has never shied away from talented players the rest of the league lacked the courage to deal with. When Moss was acquired prior to the 2007 season, many thought he had slowing legs and a bad attitude. Instead he caught 23 touchdowns that season.
The Vikings are 1-2, but are all-in on the season since it’s probably (really) Brett Favre’s(notes) final campaign. With a glaring weakness at receiver, they’re willing to gamble on Moss in an effort to reach a Super Bowl.
Belichick is gambling the other way, assuming he can survive the loss of Moss even though the running game is spotty and the defense young. Did they really pay Tom Brady(notes) all those millions of dollars to take away his deep threat? (Don’t they remember the pre-Moss days of 2006?)
So the issue is Moss. Or Belichick. Or a combination of the two.
Moss didn’t catch a pass in Monday’s victory over Miami. It’s a statistic that could or couldn’t mean everything.
Part of Moss’ value is spreading out the secondary, or as he puts it, “taking the top off the defense.” Welker had eight catches and tight end Aaron Hernandez(notes) had five. Maybe part of that was Moss.
Or maybe it isn’t. Football is a complicated game and breaking down the reasons things happen take significant film study.
Discussing a Moss trade suggests Belichick doesn’t think he’s the player many of us think he still is or Belichick believes this could be an addition-by-chemistry-subtraction.
All indications are that Moss has been a good soldier in New England. His biggest mistake this year was choosing the wrong time (after an opening-game victory) to discuss his contract situation. He got called into Belichick’s office for that, but it isn’t cause for dismissal.
New England played a similar game last year when it traded defensive end Richard Seymour(notes) to Oakland on the eve of the season. Like Moss, Seymour was entering the final year of his contract. New England picked up a 2011 first-rounder for him.
It also seemed to suck the momentum out of the start of the season. New England’s defense wasn’t good enough without him and the Pats lost in the first round of the playoffs. Would Seymour have helped? How couldn’t he?
It was a trade of potential greatness for future safety. It can be the smart play, just not the bold one that tended to make the Patriots great. In 2007, when they had a chance at a perfect regular season, Belichick never thought twice about sitting his stars. He went for the jugular. All season he’d been accused of running up the score.
That was Belichick. That was New England. And that was, in part, why Randy Moss thrived there. Everything was on the table, winning was all that mattered.
So who changed, Randy or Bill?