Commentary

Bill knew bomb was ticking

It's the only explanation for this lopsided Moss trade only days after a big victory

Updated: October 7, 2010, 11:21 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Successful football coaches don't just lead their teams through periods of crisis. They also anticipate when those crises might arise and react accordingly.

That might best explain why New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick traded receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday.

He had to sense trouble brewing.

It is the only plausible explanation for accepting the bargain-basement price of a 2011 third-round draft choice in exchange for Moss, and even throwing in a 2012 seventh-round draft choice to the Vikings as a sweetener.

In most deals, Belichick talks about the value the team receives in return, but that's not what this one appears to be about. This looks more like a situation in which Belichick saw the potential for a volcanic-type disruption, so he took the best deal possible while strategically keeping Moss out of the AFC.

Belichick often talks about his bottom-line philosophy that every decision is made with the best interests of the football team in mind, so one must ask the question: How does trading the team's best receiver make the 2010 Patriots better?

It doesn't, at least when looking solely at the on-field product.

While Moss' production was down (nine catches this season), the reception total isn't an accurate reflection of how he affects games. The Patriots obviously agree; otherwise, they wouldn't have had Moss on the field for a team-high 79 percent of the offensive snaps through four games as part of almost every personnel package.

[+] Enlarge Randy Moss
Stew Milne/US PresswireMoss seemed more distracted than motived by the fact that he was playing in the final season of his contract with the Patriots.

This had to be about something deeper, perhaps related to what unfolded at halftime of Monday night's win over the Dolphins.

According to player sources, Moss was involved in a heated exchange with quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien in the locker room. Moss was targeted just one time in the first half, and according to sources, he told O'Brien it was on him to make some adjustments for the team to overcome a 7-6 deficit. O'Brien, who calls the plays, didn't take kindly to the remark, and emotions rose.

Oftentimes, such an occurrence is a culmination of things that build up over time. The incident alone wouldn't have been enough for the Patriots to trade Moss -- the team had talked previously about dealing him -- but it likely was a fairly important part of the larger decision-making process.

"Many things were taken into consideration before making the trade," said Belichick, who in the past had praised Moss' competitiveness and added Wednesday that he was grateful for the opportunity to coach Moss.

"In this business, there are complex and often difficult decisions. It is my responsibility to make them based on what I feel is best for our football team, in both the short term and long term."

Belichick's long-term vision sparked last year's surprising trade of defensive lineman Richard Seymour, the team acquiring a 2011 first-round draft choice, an impressive chip for a player who wasn't expected to return the following season. That trade, while generally unpopular in the locker room and one that weakened the 2009 Patriots, was still viewed by some NFL front-office types as good for long-range business.

The Moss trade is a harder sell along those lines because the Patriots didn't get as valuable a chip in return. A better outcome would have been a monster season out of Moss right here in New England.

The hope entering the season was that a motivated Moss in the final season of his contract would produce just that, but it seemed as if the future uncertainty distracted him more than it motivated him, the defining moment coming during his rambling contract-related news conference following the season-opening win over the Bengals. Coupled with New England's revamped offense, which has spread the ball around more evenly and featured more multiple-tight end packages, it was a mix that had the potential to turn toxic.

Belichick had to sense that, and with the team on its bye week and the trade deadline approaching Oct. 19, this was the window of opportunity to strike a deal.

In the end, it appears Belichick assessed the risk of keeping Moss as greater than the potential reward. So he took what he could get and sent him on one final deep route -- straight to Minnesota.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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