Randy Moss' NFL return hinges on his dedication

After apparently talking about the idea with friends for about a month, wide receiver Randy Moss celebrated his 35th birthday Monday by announcing his intentions to return to the NFL. One big question is whether Moss can reignite the passion with the team he has so openly adored over the years.

Yes, the New England Patriots could use Moss in a serious way. In addition, according to a source close to Moss, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets are at least curious and the San Francisco 49ers could look to fill a hole if they let go of Josh Morgan in free agency. A source with one of those teams conveyed via text it would be "intriguing" to see what Moss has left in the tank after a year away from the game.

But just as it was a year ago, when most teams showed passing interest but not enough to excite Moss, those clubs will take their cue from him. Does he really want to do this bad enough to make it work? Or is Moss, who conveyed during his internet announcement Monday that he had some issues to sort out, just saying he wants back in for the sake of some attention?

If the answer to the first question is yes, don't be surprised if New England takes a chance on Moss, who was reportedly open to rejoining New England in-season last year. Anyone who watched the Patriots fall to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI (or even the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens) knows how badly the Patriots need Moss' field-stretching ability. In addition, coach Bill Belichick spoke glowingly about Moss less than a month ago. It was prompted by a question about Deion Branch, who Belichick praised alongside Moss for their intuitive understanding of how to make things work as the circumstances of a play change.

"[Branch] almost always does the right thing," Belichick said. "You can run a play, you can practice it all year, and then something can come up in the season that it's just not the way you talked about it, it's not the way you practiced it. Then what the player does, you look at it and say, 'That was the right thing to do,' and the quarterback saw it that way and the receiver did it that way and you have it.

[ Gallery: Randy Moss' first 13 years in NFL ]

"Branch is great at that, he's great at that. As was Troy [Brown], as was Kevin [Faulk], those guys were, and Randy [Moss]. Those guys just knew where they could go, how long they had to get there, how to do it and it was, 99 percent of the time, as the coach if you said, 'OK, this situation, this is what we want you to do,' that's what they would do … Deion and Kevin and Troy and Randy, in a lot of ways, I would put those guys at an exceptional level. I mean rare."

What obviously differentiates Moss within that small group is his speed. He is perhaps the greatest, most consistent deep threat in football history. If that deep speed, or even some semblance of it, still exists, the Patriots could use it.

Over the final two games of the season, the Patriots' offense went from explosive to electric, as in resembling one of those classic Electric Football games where completing a deep pass was akin to finding peace in the Middle East. Over the final two postseason games, New England's longest completion was for 23 yards. In the Super Bowl, the longest passing gain was 21 yards on a rare reception by Chad Ochocinco. The Patriots hadn't been held without a pass gain of at least 23 yards in another other game all season.

The Giants and the Ravens suffocated the Patriots, particularly after tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain in the Baltimore game. By the time that game was over, New England was playing offense in a shoebox. Against the Giants, the only time the Patriots were successful consistently is when they caught New York with a bad personnel matchup.

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That's where Moss comes in. Again, all of this is dependent not only on his frame of mind (first), but whether he can actually run anymore. Sure, he's 35, but physically Moss is in a class of few human beings, even by professional athlete standards. Actually, there may be no one else ever in his class as a deep threat. Over the first dozen years of his career, Moss had least one catch of longer than 50 yards every year. In fact, he had one of 60 yards or better in 11 of those 12 and one of 70 or longer in seven of them. And he had catches of longer than 70 yards in 2008 and 2009.

No one in NFL history – not Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Lance Alworth or anyone else – has accomplished that kind of game-breaking consistency. In 2010 the streak ended, but the question is whether that was because Moss slowed down or whether he was completely distracted. During the 2010 offseason and into the early part of the regular season, Moss groused about his contract. As a result, Belichick had to trade him to maintain order in the locker room.

As Moss meandered from New England to the Minnesota Vikings and finally to the Tennessee Titans, he finished with 28 catches for a paltry 393 yards and five touchdowns. Moss, fifth all time in NFL receiving yards (14,858), walked away from the game last offseason when nobody wanted to pay him his price.

Like most athletes, Moss found there aren't greener pastures in regular society. Friends say he doesn't need money, but there is always a fuzzy line between need and desire when it comes to cash. Furthermore, for as counterculture as Moss is, he's not some Dennis Rodman-esque icon willing to sell space on his body to make a buck, even in retirement. Moss is every bit the living embodiment of James Dean, a singularly talented rebel for the sake of rebellion, not for someone else's amusement.

That's why, even when Moss announced in 2009 that he wanted more endorsement opportunities, nobody really knocked down his door to offer him ad money. Moss doesn't play the media game with people. He doesn't smile big for the cameras or wax eloquently about nothing of substance. He's just Moss.

That's why so many times, Moss ends interviews by abruptly leaving the dais. He did one press conference without taking questions in 2010. He often ended interviews by saying, "I'm out, homey."

Well, now he wants back in. If he wants it bad enough, he'll get his way.

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