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Moss, Patriots hook up again

By Christopher L. Gasper and Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / March 4, 2008

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In the end, common sense won out over dollars and cents. Randy Moss wanted to be with the Patriots and the Patriots wanted Randy Moss, so the sides agreed to extend their mutually-beneficial marriage yesterday, settling on a three-year, $27 million deal that included a $12 million signing bonus as part of a total of $15 million in guarantees.

According to his agent, Tim DiPiero, Moss, who set an NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions last season, took less money to remain a Patriot.

"Randy was serious about wanting to stay," said DiPiero in an e-mail. "Because of Randy's record-breaking year, the interest in him was very high. Randy took less than he could have to rejoin his teammates."

DiPiero said he wouldn't comment on which other teams were interested in Moss, but according to a league source, the Philadelphia Eagles, who swooped in and signed Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel to a six-year, $57 million deal last Friday, made a serious play.

Moss's comeback route to Foxborough wasn't as smooth as anticipated.

The melodrama was set up when the Patriots elected not to place the $7.84 million franchise tag on their No. 1 receiver, which would have given New England the right to match any offer from another team or receive two first-round picks as compensation. When Moss and the team couldn't reach agreement on a contract before 12:01 a.m. last Friday, Moss became a free agent.

The sides were close all along on total money; it was the guaranteed money that was the sticking point.

That left Moss to play the field. But ultimately the pull of playing for the Patriots, who had a perfect 16-0 regular season and finished 18-1, and with quarterback Tom Brady lured Moss back.

Via his website, therealrandymoss.com, Moss thanked the fans for their support and well wishes and expressed his feelings on his new contract.

"I'm very happy to get the business end of football done. Now, we can concentrate on football," said Moss on the website. "I'm ready to get back. We have some unfinished business to take care of."

Dogged by questions about his com mitment, his character, and his durability, Moss, 31, restored both his name and his game in his first season in New England, catching 98 passes for a franchise-record 1,493 yards and breaking Jerry Rice's NFL record of 22 touchdown receptions set in 1987.

The presence of Moss provided Brady with a much-needed No. 1 receiver, and helped transform the Patriots offense into the most prolific in NFL history (589 points). The redoubtable receiver, who ranks fourth on the NFL's all-time touchdown reception register with 124, backed up the declaration he made on the day he was traded to the Patriots from the Oakland Raiders that "the Moss of old is back."

"What Randy did for our team last year was outstanding," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick in a statement. "He is one of our most consistent, competitive and team-oriented players and it is undoubtedly a relationship we are excited to continue."

Moss's gaudy numbers disappeared in the playoffs. He had a total of seven catches for 94 yards and one touchdown, which came in the stunning 17-14 loss in Super Bowl XLII, as an ankle injury and determined defenses that bullied him at the line of scrimmage relegated him to the role of decoy.

Still, Moss was a monumental bargain.

The Patriots paid a relative pittance to acquire him last offseason, shipping a fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall) to the Raiders for Moss, who was coming off the worst season of his career, recording lows in catches (42), yards (553), and touchdowns (3).

Moss took a pay cut to facilitate the trade. He ripped up the final year of an eight-year, $75 million deal that he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2001 and reduced his salary for the 2007 season from $9.75 million to $3 million. Moss ended up earning an additional $2 million in incentives from the Patriots.

Obviously, Moss's goal was to recoup some of the money he forfeited last season. That led to some tense times for Patriots fans. But in the end, Moss got his money and the Patriots, who entered free agency about $22 million under the cap, got their man at a reasonable rate.

Consider that Bernard Berrian, who has never had a 1,000-yard receiving season, was given a six-year, $42 million deal with $16 million in bonuses and guarantees by the Vikings, the team Moss spent the first seven seasons of his career with.

With Moss in the fold, the Patriots can focus on replacing departed cornerbacks Samuel and Randall Gay and augmenting an aging but still largely effective linebacking corps that already got a boost with the return of inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi. The team is also believed to be working to bring back wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.

The Patriots also prevent Brady, who is now 30, from wasting another season of his prime without a primary receiver, as he did in 2006, following the trade of Deion Branch.

Maybe that experience was why Brady was adamant about Moss's return when the subject was broached prior to Super Bowl XLII.

"Randy and I are a package deal," said Brady then. "I don't want Randy to go anywhere. If he goes, I go. Wherever he goes, I go."

Now, Moss isn't going anywhere.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com

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