Sports fans, including myself, are usually pre-disposed to the following condition: give a fan some time and he or she can probably convince themselves that any transaction or strategic move completed by their team is a good one. Well, as far as I can tell, this axiom went down to defeat this morning.
Try as I may, it’s proving difficult to apply any lipstick to this Randy Moss trade. Yes, his production has slipped. And yes, he hasn’t won one of his patented “jump balls” in two years. But Randy Moss, even at eighty percent, is still pretty good. And without question, his departure is a net negative for the Patriots and their gameday depth chart.
So why did Belichick make this move? Well, I can’t help but think some of this started back in December of last year when Moss puked all over that Carolina game. For those who don’t remember, that Sunday, Moss drifted and sulked all afternoon and afterwards, was accused by many of dogging it against the Panthers. Now Belichick never prosecuted Moss for the Carolina crime. In fact, he came to number 81’s defense. But Belichick’s support never appeared to be genuine and I got the feeling that Randy lost a fan that afternoon.
Well, it now appears that Moss lost Belichick as a Facebook friend after the receiver started bitching about his contract earlier this season. Reports suggest Belichick reamed Moss out for that “week one” transgression and today’s trade is a clear indication that irreparable damage was caused that afternoon.
I say that because I don’t buy this thesis that the Pats knew they would be losing Moss after the season and decided to get something while they can. The logic of that argument is entirely specious, especially after one learns that the Pats ONLY secured a third round pick for Moss.
Sorry, but picking up a third rounder in a draft that may be awfully shallow – depending on the status of the new CBA – is hardly fair compensation for losing an elite receiver four games into a season. I’m not saying that losing Moss is a season-killer, but it’s a loss of some significance. And it’s hard to argue that the emergence of Brandon Tate as a deep threat is sufficient to offset the entire loss.
Now given the compensation coming back from Minny and the timing, my gut tells me that Moss had either already become a big problem or Belichick felt the situation was ready to ignite and the cancer would be everywhere in a couple of weeks. Short of that, I just don’t see the justification for this move. Not at this point in the season. And not with the club set up decently for the dozen games ahead. Now if the Pats were 1-3 at this point, perhaps I might buy the “get something now” thesis. But at 3-1, this just doesn’t make much sense.
The other thing I find odd is how willing the Pats are to stockpile ammo for next year’s draft. The NFL world seems awfully impressed by the fact that the Pats now have two picks in each of the first four rounds and if they wanted, the Patriots could probably deal their way into four of the top-40 picks. But what if there is a labor impasse come March and the majority of top-Juniors decide they would rather return to school than risk being drafted into a locked-out season? That hollows out next year’s draft and makes each Patriot pick worth about a half-round lower than normal. In light of that, Moss may end up netting a pick which normally would fetch fourth-round talent. That seems like an awfully bad trade to me.
Normally I would ask for some time so I could convince myself otherwise. But I don’t think my powers of persuasion will allow me to get more constructive on this transaction. Not today. Not later this week. And probably not later in the year. Yeah, I can tell myself that Tate is ready to explode and he will give the club a fresh set of legs. And I can take some solace in the fact that if Moss was ready to melt, it was better to get him out right now rather than later. But the fact of the matter is Moss, slippage and all, was still a big part of this offense. And to think that his talents on the field won’t be missed is foolish.
In that vein, it’s tough to argue the Patriots got better today. Best case, they headed off a chemistry trainwreck and five years from now, we will look back and thank god the Pats made the best third round selection since the Giants nabbed Justin Tuck in 2005. Worst case, a self-inflicted wound just knocked a win or two off the 2010 season. Belichick may have proved a point this morning. But that point might be the difference between playing in January and getting a head start on scouting who the Pats should take with the Vikes third round pick.