Moss’ departure not a big blow for Pats

When the Minnesota Vikings traded Randy Moss(notes) to the Oakland Raiders in 2005, a high-ranking executive with the team basically couldn’t find enough ways to say “good riddance.”

Then 28 and in the prime of his career, Moss had worn out his welcome in his first NFL home. Two years later, Moss did the same thing in Oakland, and was traded to the New England Patriots. Four games into this season, Moss wore down Bill Belichick, a man who defended Moss time and again and wanted nothing more than to see Moss and the Patriots succeed.

Moss' Patriots career ends following his first game without a catch since 2006.
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sadly, the success of the two has become mutually exclusive.

That’s because Moss’ goals right now are not in line with that of the Patriots, who traded the receiver to Minnesota on Wednesday for a reported third-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Beyond that, the way the Patriots are playing right now means that Moss, who has only nine catches, 139 yards and three touchdowns through the first four games, was not going to end up with the kind of stats he would need to get paid as a free agent.

In other words, this was a bad marriage that was only going to get worse.

Moss made his goals clear earlier this season with his rant about wanting a long-term contract. Right after the season opener, Moss wasn’t talking about winning a title, he was talking about getting paid. That talk hasn’t been as public since, but it didn’t go away and Belichick doesn’t want that in his locker room during the season.

Belichick has proved that over and over again. Last year, he traded Richard Seymour(notes) on the eve of the season in large part because he knew that the Patriots weren’t going to re-sign Seymour and because Seymour was focused on getting a long-term contract. Likewise, Belichick did the same before the 2006 season when wide receiver Deion Branch(notes) was holding out, and after that season at the first sign of trouble with running back Corey Dillon.

In Belichick’s world, if the players aren’t all pulling in the same direction, it’s time to send the malcontents some other way.

Of course, this flies in the face of conventional logic. No one can make a reasonable argument that the Patriots are better without Moss than with him. Even now at his advanced age (by football standards), he is one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL.

On Monday night in Miami, even when Moss didn’t catch a pass (or have one even thrown his way until the end of the first half), he was a factor. The Dolphins regularly played a safety deep over Moss’ side of the field and had a linebacker shaded his way in case he ran a slant.

That said, the Patriots are at a point where they can handle losing Moss with minimal burden. If you didn’t watch Monday night, the Patriots have a phenomenal young talent in rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez(notes), a solid rookie tight end in Rob Gronkowski(notes) and second-year wide receiver Brandon Tate(notes).

Moreover, the Patriots are at the forefront of a pure two-tight end system and even incorporate a lot of three-tight end looks with veteran Alge Crumpler(notes).

Basically, the Patriots can be either a power running team or a wide-open passing attack without changing personnel. Since Hernandez is diverse enough to line up either tight to the line or out wide, the Patriots can alternate at will between double-tight end and three-receiver formations.

“The tight end is basically the queen on the chessboard in our game right now,” Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “You see what New England is trying to do with those guys [Hernandez and Gronkowski]. Bill understands the value of those guys and that’s why he drafted them. That’s the direction our game is going so that you can play any way you want depending on the way the defense lines up and what kind of personnel the defense has on the field.”

Of New England’s first 53 plays against the Dolphins (before the game got out of hand), the Patriots only had eight downs when they didn’t have at least two tight ends on the field.

Hernandez has 18 catches for 240 yards this season..
(Greg M. Copper/US Presswire)

Ultimately, that meant that Moss was playing the role of glorified decoy. Sure, that was going to change. Moss was going to have games where the opposing team would start to cover Hernandez more and leave him open. Furthermore, anyone who saw Moss’ one-handed touchdown catch against the New York Jets earlier this season knows that he has plenty of skills left.

But the Patriots also think Tate has plenty of skills. He made one very nice catch against Miami on Monday and he already has two kickoff returns for scores this season, showing that he has serious speed.

All of that conspired to mean that the Patriots didn’t have to deal with Moss’ issues anymore. Again, Belichick has been more than happy to do that. In a conversation two years ago, Belichick complained about how the NFL was singling out Moss for not doing regular interviews when, at the time, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison(notes) was never talking at all.

“Randy does everything he’s supposed to do and they don’t say a thing about Harrison,” Belichick said. Over Moss’ first three seasons, Belichick has continuously complimented Moss on his knowledge and understanding of the game. Belichick, a maven of X’s and O’s, doesn’t say such things lightly.

Earlier this season, Belichick was asked about Moss’ one-handed catch against the Jets. He remarked about how that was practically routine for Moss.

The problem is that Moss has also made it a routine to complain. At a time when he could have helped make the Patriots a serious contender in what looks to be a wide-open season, Moss was becoming a problem.

A problem not worth having.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010