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Moss, Patriots running a reverse

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  September 9, 2010 12:07 PM

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Randy Moss might be feeling "not wanted" by the Patriots, but he is certainly needed in New England.

Asking if these Patriots need Randy Moss is like asking if TMZ needs Lindsay Lohan, if "Mad Men" needs Jon Hamm, if NESN needs the Red Sox.

The Patriots offense has been in the top five in the NFL in yards per game each of the seasons Moss has been on the team, including 2008, when Tom Brady played less than one quarter of one game.

As currently constructed, the Patriots are a team that is going to rely on an explosive offense to offset/mask a developing defense that will take some time to discover its identity. If the mercurial Moss suddenly says, "no mas" in a contract year then the Patriots' blueprint for success has a serious design defect and the season is likely to collapse.

If Moss's importance to the 2010 Patriots wasn't obvious simply by looking at his prolific production the last three years, it was reinforced by the verbal bouquets team personnel tossed Moss's way in the wake of his public pronouncement to CBSSports.com about what he perceives as the team's lack of interest in retaining him beyond this season, the final one of the three-year, $27 million contract he signed following his record-setting 2007 campaign. It's a tune Moss first started singing back in February at Heath Evans's charity softball game.

Desperate to massage his bruised ego, the Patriots launched a public relations campaign to show No. 81 he's still the one for them. It was like a nervous spouse being reassured their affection is not unrequited.

"I want him. He knows that," said quarterback Tom Brady. "I tell him every day. Hes everything we look for in a receiver. Hes been a great player for his whole career. Look at what hes done here in terms of his productivity. Look at what hes done this preseason in training camp. Hes been a great example, a great leader. Were lucky to have him, we really are. Hes something."

As Moss enters what could be his final season as a Patriot, what's interesting is how much the tables have turned since he first came here in a draft day deal back in 2007. At the time it was Moss who desperately needed the Patriots to resurrect his career and rehabilitate his reputation.

When the Patriots acquired Moss for a fourth-round pick (which the Raiders used on immortal cornerback John Bowie) he was joining his third team in four seasons and had been traded for the second time in three years. He was 30 years old and this was his last shot to prove he could play well with others.

So deep was Moss's desire to be a Patriot he restructured his contract, erasing the final year and its $11.25 million payout and taking half of the $10 million (including a $250,000 Pro Bowl bonus) he could have made in 2007. He reduced his 2007 salary to $3 million ($500,000 bonus for being on the roster for the first game and a $2.5 million base salary), plus an additional $2 million in performance-based incentives. Don't think Moss has ever forgotten this financial gesture.

It was made clear to Moss upon his arrival it was the Patriot Way or the highway.

Now, it's the other way around, as the Patriots need Moss to help restore their image as an elite NFL team, to show they're a dynasty in transition, not in remission.

To do that, the Patriots need a fully engaged Moss to keep defensive coordinators up at night and make defensive backs quake in their cleats, so the team is bending over backwards to appease its recalcitrant receiver.

Perhaps, that says more about how the Patriots have changed in the last three years than Moss.

Yes, it is mutually beneficial for the Patriots and Moss if he has another huge season. It would certainly hurt the 33-year-old Moss's drive for a contract if he tanked in a contract year, but some team would sign him and just chalk up his decreased production to a bad situation and the need for a change of scenery.

That's what the Oakland Raiders did when they traded for Moss in 2005. It's what the Patriots did when they traded for Moss in 2007. He's going to get his money somewhere from someone. He's simply too good not to get paid.

The Patriots on the other hand are not good enough to win without him engaged. On a team devoid of game-changers, Moss is the league's ultimate game-changer. In three seasons in Foxborough, Moss has caught 47 touchdown passes, the most in the league during that span.

Take Moss out of the equation and Brady and the Patriots' offense are relying on a still-convalescing Wes Welker, a pair of promising but developing second-year wide receivers in Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate, a pair of rookie tight ends and an aging/injury-prone group of running backs.

The idea you can't win with Moss is a fallacy. He would have scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, if not for David Tyree's miracle helmet catch.

The Patriots are 25-3 in the regular season over the last three seasons when Moss catches a touchdown. That means the Patriots win 89.3 percent of the time when Moss reaches the end zone. The Patriots are 13-1 in games in which Moss catches two touchdowns, the lone loss is the famed fourth-and-2 game in Indianapolis last year.

The truth is the Patriots can't win without Moss. So when Moss starts warbling, "I Want You to Want Me" the Patriots oblige. They have no choice.

Whether they want Randy Moss moving forward or not they need Randy Moss right now.

That's why his professing feeling unwanted constitutes a whole new meaning to the term deep threat.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...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.

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