I gotta be honest. When the Patriots traded for Randy Moss in 2007, I wasn’t happy. I’d fallen in love with a proud organisation of overachievers – guys who kept their head down and won on sheer grit and determination. Fed by the mountain of (admittedly at the time, deserved) hate dished out by the media at the time, the only image I had of Moss was that of a petulant, arrogant punk. On top of that, he had his worst season as a pro in Oakland and quite frankly, looked washed up.
The year before, we again rode that old fashioned Patriots grit to upset a heavily favoured San Diego Chargers team, and was one third down conversion away from the Superbowl. Then once the offseason began, Bill Belichick began an extensive and aggressive retooling job, signing free agent linebacker Adalius Thomas to the richest free agent contract in team history, signed the speedy Dante Stallworth and traded for some guy Bill was really high on called Wes Welker.
We seemed stacked. Our defense had a magnificent chess piece that Bill could play around with in Thomas, we had this electric young running back called Laurence Maroney who just came off a promising rookie year (lol) and our receiving core seemed sufficiently replenished (we had lower standards then). Why put that all at risk? Why get greedy with this guy who was clearly not in line with our traditional Patriot ways? To me, it seemed like we were “selling our soul” for another shot at a championship, and I didn’t like it one bit.
Little did I know, soon I would fall deeply and madly in love with one of the most dynamic talents to ever put on a Patriots uniform.
There may have been better players – Hannah, Tippet, Brady, Rodney Harrison, Seymour, etc. But none had the raw, freakish ability that Moss had.
Randy had the ability to make stoopid plays. They were so ridiculous, that you couldn’t just call them stupid. They were stoopid. Normally, when players make great plays you pump your fist and yell. With Randy, his catches would be so spectacular, so impossible and yet so routine that the only reaction you’d be able to manage was: “huh?” and stare stupidly at the screen in confusion until they showed the replay and you wet your pants.
He was the “misunderstood genius” – an enigmatic but transcendent, once-in-a-generation athlete. Needless to say, he quickly found a place in the hearts of many in Patriots Nation.
So when news of the trade first hit, naturally I was devastated. I raged to any football fan I could find. I felt sorry for myself. Once I had gotten past the initial, emotional reaction though, I ordered my thoughts and my problems with the deal were thus:
- The on field aspect. Why trade away our best receiver mid season? I understand the arguments for a share-the-wealth receiving attack, and Tate and Hernandez excite me as much as anyone. But just because we could still be a top 5 offense without Moss, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t help. And if we have a shot at the playoffs (as we seem to do right now), and with a pretty weak field this year across the NFL, why not keep him and go for it?
- Psychological and mental aspects: trading Moss does 3 things: it puts more pressure on the youngsters; takes focus away from the momentum they built with the Monday Night win with all the media attention on this Moss trade; losing a respected veteran who appeared to rally the troops in that Miami game and looked from the outside to be a positive influence
- The economic/personnel aspect: Moss’s value to us is greater than his value in the open market. In a trade market, a third rounder is pretty much a 33 year old WR is worth, when taken in a vacuum. But given his role on the Patriots, to us he’s worth much more than that. This is why, in one sense, the Patriots got fair market value for him with a third round pick. But this doesn’t sit well with many Patriots fans, who believe that a third round pick is not enough compensation to justify jettisoning Randy Moss midseason.
The big unanswered question that could help us make sense of all this was what our motivation for this trade was. If it was a Richard Seymour type trade (getting value for him before he became a free agent), this trade looked bad when looking at the feeble draft pick we got back in return. When we traded Seymour, that was an offer we couldn’t refuse. This Moss trade offer didn’t appear to be of that quality.
Now that we have some information starting to trickle out about this, we can start to evaluate this trade. What appears to have been the case is that Moss had been clashing with offensive coaches, and there was some palpable “friction” between them. This culminated in a halftime “outburst” at Miami between Moss and popular patspulpit.com whipping boy Bill O’Brien. Further, Mike Reiss reported that if Moss left as a free agent after this season, the highest compensatory draft pick the Patriots would have received was a 5th round pick in 2012. Compared to that, a 3rd rounder in 2011 isn’t half-bad, and gives us 8 picks in the first 4 rounds of next year's draft.
So with this information, we can explain away to a degree, the problems I initially had with the trade, when looking at it rationally. We got fair value for a guy who was reported to be causing friction in the locker room. The only issue was on the field production, and Bill Belichick obviously thought we could withstand the hit – and who are we to argue?
That said, this trade still sucks. And I hate it.
Because now, the “Moss is a dog and a cancer” crowd has ammo. Because now, Randy Moss leaves the Patriots on a sour note, in a whirlwind trade that came out of nowhere. There was no feel-good press conference announcing the end of his Patriots career. It happened so fast, I think a lot of us are confused as to how we should feel about his Patriots legacy.
Let’s not kid ourselves though. Randy Moss was not shipped out because he was some cancer. Yes, there have been reports of friction between him and the coaches. But also remember, the Vikings are the ones who initiated trade talks, enquiring about his availability. All his problems did was make him that little bit more “available”. The Vikings saw the Pats had a bye week, pitched an offer, and Belichick had grown open to the idea of life without Moss, thanks to strong showings by some of the youngsters, and the recent outburst at halftime in Miami fresh in his mind.
But Moss didn’t let us down. He didn’t contaminate the locker room with his attitude and revert back to form. The last 2 years of being the good soldier and newfound maturity and leadership... I refuse to believe that it was all a lie. Not Randy. He's one of the few guys in pro sports who still "keep it real" after all.
He was who we thought he was – an incredibly talented but insecure athlete, who seems to lack an awareness of the impact of his behaviour. He’s not a malicious, calculating cancer like Terrell Owens was in Dallas and Philly. This was a man who was just so caught up in his contract situation, he just seemed to forget that this was a TEAM, and lost track of what was important. You could say that this wasn’t the management’s fault and that Moss wanted to be traded. But if you’re his employer and you’ve known him for 3 years, surely you have to have known him well enough by now to know that leaving Randy as a lame duck was not going to go over well, especially after 3 years of dedicated service for which he was probably convinced he deserved to be rewarded for. I hate armchair psychology as much as anyone, but come on - if you were in Randy's position and completely reinvented yourself, dedicated yourself to becoming the best you can be, in pursuit of a certain reward, and then that effort is not rewarded with the respect you believe you deserve, wouldn't you be a little upset?
Sure, given the current circumstances though, Bill made the right move, the rationally-sound move. It just hurts to admit it, and the fact that we’re talking about the less than ideal circumstances he left in, rather than the clutch catches, the incredible production (50 touchdowns in 52 games in New England), and the great joy it gave us to watch him play, is what sucks the most about this trade.
The Patriots do an incredible job of evaluating their own players. Asante Samuel, Deion Branch, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Adam Vinatieri… the list goes on. Nearly every time, they've been right about letting them go, and as much as it hurt us to see them go, we kept on winning. But as the years go on, and cherished veteran after cherished veteran is unceremoniously dumped, it kills you a little inside as a fan that roots for these guys every week. Especially a polarising guy like Randy, who we defended from his detractors as much as we celebrated his successes, supporting him as he rebuilt his career and his reputation, to the point where his personal victories almost became our own personal victories.
I guess, long story short, what I’m trying to say is when you run your team on entirely economic and results-based principles, then we better keep seeing results.
Bill: you’d better be freaking right about this.
Thanks for the memories RM81