It's not often that Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss goes uncovered, but that's the case right now. The coverage of Moss's contract plight could best be described as cover zero.
Moss is entering the last year of the three-year extension he signed with the Patriots following his redemptive and record-setting 2007 season, but that fact has gone all but unnoticed in the contract consternation surrounding would-be free agent nose tackle Vince Wilfork and quarterback Tom Brady, who also has a deal that is up after 2010.
There is little suspense in what the Patriots will do with Wilfork. They're going to use the franchise tag on him sometime between today, which is the first day teams can slap the tag on players, and Feb. 25. For all the angst about Brady getting a new deal, few can envision a scenario where Patriots owner Robert Kraft doesn't make sure Brady is passing for the Patriots beyond the 2010 season.
But if Brady is playing QB for the Patriots after 2010, will he still have Moss as one of his targets? It's a real question, and there is the real possibility that 2010 could be the last time we see the Real Randy Moss in a Patriots uniform.
Moss signed a three-year, $27 million extension, including a $12 million signing bonus, with the Patriots following his Tour de Touchdown '07 season, when he set the NFL single-season record for TD receptions with 23.
He is slated to make $6.4 million in base salary this year and would have carried a cap charge of $11.26 million, if '10 were a capped season. Last season, Moss was the third-highest paid wide receiver in the league by cap hit at $9.65 million, trailing only Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Buccaneers receiver Antonio Bryant, who played under the franchise tag at $9.88 million.
It's safe to say Moss won't be looking for a pay cut.
Making a decision on the mercurial Moss, who is equal parts magnificent and high-maintenance, is going to be one of the toughest calls the Patriots face. Is Moss still worth the trouble?
Moss is still productive -- he was fifth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,264), averaged 15.2 yards per catch on 83 receptions and tied Larry Fitzgerald and Vernon Davis for the NFL lead in TD receptions last season (13) -- but who can forget the scene of him pouting on the sidelines against Carolina as Brady tried in vain to reach him?
Days after he was one of the four players caught up in Late Gate, Moss never showed up against the Panthers. Moss had more drops, two, than catches (one for 16 yards) in that game. The one reception he had he fumbled away, and his failure to finish an out route led to an interception by Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble, who after the game said Moss checked out effort-wise.
That capped a four-game stretch for Moss, starting with his second stay on Revis Island, where he had 11 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
It later came to light that Moss was playing with a separated shoulder, and he endured back spasms most of the season. However, neither seemed to bother him when he lit up Indianapolis for 9 receptions for a season-high 179 yards and two touchdowns the week before his four-game funk.
Then there is the added wrinkle of how the Patriots' plans for Moss could affect TB12. Most everyone agrees that Brady, who will be 33 in August, is not going to accept a team-discounted deal this time around, but he would also want assurances that he's not going to sign a lucrative deal only to be saddled with receivers that are less reliable than a Toyota gas pedal.
He's been down that road before in 2006, when his favorite receiver, Deion Branch, was shipped out of town the day after the season-opener.
It was the 2006 season, when Brady was throwing to the likes of Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel that precipitated Moss's arrival in the first place.
There is no obvious heir apparent to Moss, who turns 33 this Saturday, on the roster right now. Moss is all the Patriots have at wide receiver heading into 2010, unless they're inclined to make a deal for Arizona's Anquan Boldin, who would cost them one of their three second-round picks.
All season long, the Patriots held open auditions to find a wideout opposite Moss, who usually plays flanker. The X (split end) remained unsolved in the Patriots' offensive equation. It was an epic failure, from Joey Galloway to Isaiah Stanback to Brandon Tate to Sam Aiken. Now, it's uncertain how long before -- or even if -- Wes Welker will return to form after having reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.
But what will Moss be like in 2011, or whenever the next NFL season is?
Entering his 13th season, Moss is beginning to get into Kevin Garnett territory. There are a lot of miles on the odometer. To borrow a phrase Kobe Bryant used to describe Ray Allen, Moss, who was so adept at outleaping receivers that it became an eponymous description of the event, now has an elevator that only goes to the seventh floor. It's rare for him to go up and high-point a pass anymore.
The Patriots have always treated Moss like he has a "handle with care" sticker on his forehead. In contrast to Wilfork, they elected not to franchise Moss after the 2007 season, allowing him to become a free agent. It nearly cost them, as Moss flirted with Philadelphia before a phone call from Brady persuaded him to take less and return to Foxborough.
Now, the Patriots are faced with that choice again. Do they have Moss run another comeback after 2010 or do they send him on a permanent out pattern?
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.