Ten Thoughts a day after the trade that shook the NFL and caused some Foxboro fans to ask the toughest question of all: What to do with a Randy Moss mask now?
1. Unlike Mike Tice and the Vikings and Norv Turner (and Al Davis) with the Raiders, Belichick decided to cut bait with Moss before it got nuclear. We all knew that the ride was going to end, and it was going to end with Moss going off on an assistant coach or some other guy who got in the way of Randy getting his. In the past, Moss' coaches put up with it because they were Mike Tice and Norv Turner. But Belichick -- who has absolutely no patience for this stuff -- chose to take a short-term hit for the sake of the locker room. Agree with it or not, there isn't another coach or GM in the league that would have the twins to deal a player like Moss four weeks into a season that has (at least) some Super Bowl expectations.
(My two cents? The second Moss opened his mouth and began his bizarre press conference after Week 1 his fate was sealed. Not so much for what he said in the 16 minutes and four seconds -- watching it again it struck me just how insecure Moss really is -- but more because of timing and the likelihood that this was just going to be Act I of a season-long pity party.)
2. Think about it: Belichick traded a fourth-round pick for Moss, got three unbelievable years (most TD catches ever in a three-year span) and traded him for a third-rounder. That's incredible value. The Raiders gave up the seventh pick in the draft for Moss (a 28-year old Moss) and got 11 touchdown catches and six wins in two seasons. It took Moss all of nine games with the Pats to catch 12 TDs and the team won its first 18 regular-season games with him in the lineup.
3. I'm hearing a lot of comparisons to the end of the Manny Era, and I get it. Quirky guys, almost savants at what they do, never far from controversy but hugely productive. First-ballot Hall of Famers both (as long as everyone is OK with a 32-year-old man jamming fertility drugs into his body). But I think the big difference is this: When Manny was traded it seemed the entire city exhaled and with Moss it felt like a punch to the gut. With Manny it really was time to go. I don't think anyone felt that way about Moss. Maybe we were a couple of weeks away from the fans starting to turn -- the stories are now just starting to leak out -- but I still think it was honeymoon time for the great majority of Patriots Nation. There was still an aura around Moss while Manny had been reduced (fairly or not) to a punchline.
4. You saw Belichick on Monday night. Hugs, smiles, fist pumps. He was a one-man Pete Carroll cover band. I don't think I remember him being as happy in a regular season game since the win over the Chargers in the week following SpyGate. It strikes me that he's at a point in his coaching career where he is probably enjoying working with a young (and diva free) defense. No headaches, just a bunch of guys that listen. I suspect Belichick didn't want any of the off-field baggage Moss was going to bring over the next three months anywhere close to these guys. How would it look if Moss spent the next 12 weeks bitching out coaches and nothing was done about it?
5. Look, the idea that the Patriots didn't get enough for Moss in the trade is a tough sell for me. This is a 33-year-old wide receiver in the last year of his contract with a lockout looming. For 12 regular season games, you just aren't going to do much better than a third-round pick. I guess it's possible that they could have tried to dig in and get a No. 2, but the truth is that they probably didn't want to deal with the possibility of the trade falling through. And name me a team other than the Vikings that would have made this deal. Belichick's hands were tied. You can argue that they shouldn't have traded Moss but I'm not buying that they could have got more in a trade.
6. The Patriots aren't going to make a deal for Vincent Jackson (you think Moss is a headache? Two strikes against Jackson with NFL substance abuse policy. Belichick doesn't like it when guys are 10 minutes late to practice when a snowstorm is going on, Jackson was late to a playoff game because he had been arrested earlier in the day. Not just that, but you would have to pay Jackson some serious guaranteed dough, and if Belichick isn't going to fork it over for Moss he isn't going to pay double for Jackson) and that is the only A-list wide receiver Out There.
7. Welker, Edelman, Tate and the tight ends. This is it. So the offense isn't going to be as good the rest of the season. Brandon Tate isn't going to be Randy Moss, he just isn't going to draw double teams. Don't forget, Moss can still make zero catches and still be valuable (the Woodhead TD catch on Monday night was proof of that). These aren't things that'll come as a galloping shock to Belichick -- he knows his team isn't as good today as it was a week ago. And this is taking a primo weapon away from Tom Brady in his prime, and it's not like Brady has 10 years left out there. Belichick wants to win Super Bowls (duh) and this makes winning another this season even tougher. There are going to be plenty of struggles as the guys adjust to new roles, which might be OK if this was a team with a top 10 defense but that's just not the reality. Which again leads me to only conclude that Belichick felt he absolutely had to make this deal, there was no choice left.
8. Is it possible that if Aaron Hernandez hadn't flunked a drug test in college Randy Moss would still be in New England today? I understand that the contract was Moss' leadoff beef, but I think if he had 29 catches after Week 4 instead of nine he might be almost OK with sticking around all year and talking his chances on the open market with another monster season on his resume. And let's be loud and clear on this: The presence of Aaron Hernandez -- who would have never slipped to No. 113 in the draft without an assist from Mary Jane -- has signaled a change in the offense. I really haven't had a single problem with Moss since he came to New England -- I think he's played hard and by all accounts was a good teammate until this season -- but there is no way he was going to be comfortable as a decoy-first player. Not in a contract year, anyway. Give him three years and $27 million again and he might've be willing to play ball.
9. The "Good riddance, he never won a Super Bowl here" angle I'm reading online and hearing from some callers on 'EEI is nearly as stupid as it is insulting to anyone with a football IQ over 40. Randy Moss had one of the three or four best seasons ever by a wide receiver in 2007. You can call Deion Branch a "winner," but I'll take the guy who catches touchdowns -- and Moss had nine more TDs in 2007 than Branch had in his 53 games with the Patriots. I don't know, I guess Moss was good enough to play for a team that had a four-point lead in a Super Bowl (thanks to his TD catch) with two minutes left but lacked the intangibles to play for a champion. Suppose it must've been Moss -- and not The Devil -- who Tyree made his deal with.
10. Three and a half weeks until Moss/McCourty. Brett Favre -- now just the latest QB who will enable Moss by making sure his feelings aren't hurt every time someone else catches a TD pass -- will give Moss plenty of chances to find the end zone and I'd be stunned if he ends the game without a score. Call it six catches for 76 yards and a TD in a 24-21 Patriots win.
And I think both Moss and Patriots would be OK with that result.