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NFL teams could say no Moss

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  November 2, 2010 03:01 PM

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It turns out that Randy Moss needed the Patriots more than they needed Randy Moss.

That's the only conclusion you can come to after watching the Patriots, relieved of Randy being Randy, roll to the best record in the league, and Moss end up on the NFL's version of eBay.

Even Manny Ramirez has never worn out a welcome as quickly as Moss did in Minnesota. After four games and 13 catches, Randy Redux is done in Minnesota. Who knew the Randy Ratio was teams to touchdowns?

The lesson once again for teams, fans, and media is that the laundry may change, but the athlete doesn't. Moss's one-handed catches always come with a catch. Just like he has a track record on the field, Moss has one off it.

The same was true of Ramirez and Rasheed Wallace. All are tremendous talents that come with a buyer-beware label attached that you can only ignore for so long.

They don't change. Only our opinion of them does, if they're wearing preferred laundry or not. So it is with Moss, who could still help the Patriots and quite a few other teams with his immense talent. But eventually there is a tipping a point, a point where the ability isn't worth the instability. Two teams, the Patriots and the Vikings, reached that point with Moss in the last 27 days. You wonder if Moss, now 33, is nearing the point where the entire NFL feels that way?

While Moss's immediate future is in question as his name dangles on the NFL waiver wire, so are his long-term prospects for NFL employment. If you were an NFL owner would you give Moss a three-year, $30-million deal after his behavior this season?

Moss's meltdown in a contract year is almost unprecedented. All he had to do was let his play make his case for a new contract by lighting up the league like he had the previous three seasons in New England, and he was going to get paid by someone, pre- or post-lockout. Even if he had just been a good foot soldier in Foxborough and followed through on the words he uttered in his bizarre address after the Patriots' season-opener, when he said, "I'm not here to start any trouble. I'm here to play my last year out of my contract," it would have been enough.

If his numbers were down, then another team would have chalked it up to his unhappiness with not having a contract, or the Patriots' desire to diversify their offense.

Instead, the man once known as The Freak had a freakout about his fate, forced his way out of Foxborough and then complained about the catering and the coaching in Minnesota, prodding Vikings coach Brad Childress to release him after less than a month.

At the beginning of this season, Moss had some control over his football fate. Now, he has none. If you go back to Moss's comments when he joined the Patriots in a draft-day trade in April of 2007, you'll understand that in his world that's more daunting than facing triple-coverage.

"I think that a lot of things have been said probably over the last week or two about...what team am I going to be on, and that really kind of bothered me because I really didn’t know my fate," said Moss back then. "Not knowing my fate really scares me, and what it scares me into doing is working out and getting my body conditioned so hopefully I can showcase my talent."

If Moss isn't careful, he will become the Allen Iverson of the NFL. Moss and Iverson have a lot in common, besides famous cornrows. They're signature players for their generation who always kept it real, sometimes to their professional detriment. Both were high-profile high school stars that got railroaded in racially-tinged fights that sent them to jail. Both are one-of-a-kind talents, and both had short-lived and unsuccessful reunions with their original teams.

For Moss, hopefully the parallels end there.

Iverson -- an 11-time NBA All-Star, four-time scoring champion and former league MVP -- is persona non grata in the NBA after his froward ways and refusal to accept a reduced role alienated the entire league. A.I. is not in the NBA. Last Friday, without any NBA takers, Iverson, 35, signed a two-year, $4-million contract to play with a Turkish team called Besiktas. There are no professional football teams in Turkey.

Moss's skills haven't quite declined the way Iverson's have, but there has been slippage. Moss still has five touchdowns this season and is averaging 14.2 yards per reception. He'd still be the best deep threat on the Patriots or nearly any other NFL team. However, he only has 22 catches in eight games this season and is without a reception of 40 yards or more, matching the longest stretch of his career to start a season without a 40-yarder, which came in 2001.

Without Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to coddle him and cover for him, Moss is at a career crossroads. He can either curb his act with his new team long enough to convince the league he's still worth the trouble, or he can continue to act in a self-centered manner and find himself flanked right out of the league.

The Patriots threw Moss a career lifeline once, in 2007, and he caught it. If he drops this next one, then the NFL could drop him. Permanently.

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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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