The 13-year veteran can rant all he wants — and typically the only sound a reporter gets when he holds a tape recorder in front of Moss is background noise — but the Patriots are not inclined to reward him a new contract.
At least not yet.
The Sports Xchange reported on Aug. 20, in a Tip Sheet item, that Patriots' brass was in part attempting to prod Moss with its laissez-faire stance to negotiations that might extend his contract beyond this, its final year. A hissed-off Moss, particularly one who feels disrespected financially and otherwise, is a motivated Moss.
And the Pats need Moss to be especially motivated in 2010.
There is method in the Patriots' madness. Or, more to the point, in the madness they hope to engender in Moss. New England management has yet to have even a casual conversation with Moss' new agent, Joel Segal, and it probably won't for a while. It's not as if the Patriots don't want Moss back — at an age (33) when most wideouts are beginning their football dotage, he is still a force, and scored 13 touchdowns in 2009 — but they want him to feel he is backed to the wall.
With a young, rebuilt defense likely to struggle early in the season, and to again demonstrate that this is hardly the unit that won three Super Bowl titles in four seasons (2001-2004), the onus for returning the Pats to an AFC title New England once considered a birthright falls on quarterback Tom Brady and the offense. And that means that Moss, set to earn $6.4 million in the final season of the three-year, $27 million contract he signed after his electrifying 2007 performance, has to play at a very high level.
The Patriots believe he can, but primarily if they delay in discussing an add-on to his current deal. The rationale: If the Pats don't further fill up his checking account, then Moss, with the prospect of free agency and a big payday as the carrot, will fill up the stat sheet.
The strategy had better work.
Running mate Wes Welker is coming off knee surgery. And as inspirational as his early return has been — there was some fear Welker could miss the first half of the season, but he was on the field for the first day of camp — the game's premier slot receiver conceded last week he is not yet 100 percent. Second-year veteran Julian Edelman, who had an excellent rookie campaign with 37 catches, is also a slot guy, a poor man's Welker who would lose some effectiveness if he played outside.
After that, the New England collection of young and untested wideouts has zero receptions. None. Zilch. Nada.
There's a lot of potential in the group, especially from Brandon Tate, who spent most of his rookie campaign in 2009 laid up by injuries. Third-round draft pick Taylor Price flashed some talent in camp. But for now, the outside receiving game is Moss, who, cha-ching, has to be a money player for the passing game to work.
In his first season in New England, 2007, Moss got some help from outside receivers, as Donte' Stallworth posted 46 catches and Jabar Gaffney had 36. In '08, Gaffney had 38 grabs. Last year, Sam Aiken managed a career-best 20 receptions. None of those players are with the Patriots any longer.
For all his slot-receiving brilliance, notching 100-catch seasons each of his three years in New England and averaging 115.3 receptions in that stretch, Welker does not score a lot of touchdowns. He has only 15 scores, seven the past two years. Edelman, as noted, is a Welker-in-waiting. The next time a New England outside receiver gets to the end zone, he's certain to enjoy the scenery, because it will be his first venture into that uncharted territory.
In his three New England seasons, Moss has 47 of the 75 touchdowns tallied by the New England wide receiver corps. No one expects him to repeat the 23-touchdown performance of '07, but if Moss gets close to the 12 scores he has averaged the past two years, he may well get that new contract he so covets.
No one draws a line in the contract negotiating sand like the Patriots, an approach that has kept the franchise near the top of the league for a decade. Guys tend to play at the Patriots' price — fair but not outlandish — or they don't play at all. If Moss has any doubt about that, he can look no further than the empty stall of two-time Pro Bowl guard and current holdout Logan Mankins' in the New England locker room.
If Moss wants the Pats' brass to wipe out that line in the sand, he's first going to have to cross the goal-line a lot of times in 2010. Even for a guy like Moss, who regards every sparse word like a million-dollar-a-syllable utterance, talk is cheap.
Actions, not words, are what will get him paid.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.
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