- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Suddenly, Randy Moss can run 40 yards in 4.29 seconds again. At least, that’s what he reportedly clocked for the Patriots over the weekend when they were trying to decide whether to acquire him from the Raiders. Yes, the prospect of playing for a contender can have an amazing effect on an aging athlete. Just ask Chris Webber.

Not only does it make his feet move faster, it also makes him willing to risk life and hamstring for — gasp — less money. Remember the fuss baseball’s players association caused when Alex Rodriguez wanted to renegotiate his contract downward to facilitate a trade to the Red Sox? Well, Moss encountered no such resistance when he reduced his deal by $18 million (from $21 million for two years to $3 million, plus incentives, for one).

Yet another reason — No. 674 if you’re scoring at home — why football is better than baseball.

But back to Moss. The Patriots, it seems, are still steamed about losing the AFC title game to the Colts. How else to explain the lengths they’ve gone to turn their biggest weakness, their innocuous group of wide receivers (Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Troy Brown et al.), into a major strength? The Pats’ first move was to sign deep threat Donte Stallworth — for the equally cut-rate price of $3.6 million this season. Then they pried restricted free agent Wes Welker away from the Dolphins in exchange for their second- and seventh-round draft picks. Finally, while the nation brunched Sunday morning, they swapped a fourth-rounder for the highly talented, highly strung Moss.

Think they got the conference’s attention with that trifecta? Tom Brady now has just as many toys to play with as Peyton Manning does, especially when you count tight end Ben Watson.

Not that there aren’t risks involved with Moss (habitual knuckleheadedness) and Stallworth (injury proneness, a possible drug issue). But both are home run hitters, the kind of receivers a defense has to respect. Put it this way: Deion Branch never averaged 19.1 yards a catch in New England, (as Stallworth did last year for the Eagles), and no wideout in Patriots history has come close to Moss’ numbers (676 receptions, 10,700 yards, 101 touchdowns in just nine seasons).

Besides, even Terrell Owens usually behaves himself in his first year with a team … before he goes back to Being T.O. So why shouldn’t Randy and Donte be able to fit in with their new club next season? (It’s the season after that, I submit, that figures to be more interesting because Pats will have to cough up major dollars to keep either of them.)

Some will say New England has sold out by bringing in a troublemaker like Moss, but Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick could just as easily reply (with apologies to Hyman Roth in “The Godfather”): “This is the life we have chosen. If you want to be in the hunt year after year, you have to be willing to gamble occasionally on players with questionable character. The NFL ain’t a Boy Scout Jamboree. They don’t give out any medals to the Best Behaved Second-Place Team.”

Brady is a rare quarterback, and the Patriots certainly don’t want him to waste any more seasons throwing to substandard receivers. Moss can be a handful, sure, but he was less of a handful earlier in his career when his club, the Vikings, was winning. The Pats, rest assured, will win; perhaps that will be enough to placate Randy. After two lost seasons in Oakland, he might finally be ready to subjugate his ego to the greater good. If so — and if that 4.29 time really is legit — New England might have come up with one of the all-time steals.

No matter how you feel about the move, though, give the Patriots credit for being good businessmen, for selling high and buying low. They got a No. 1 pick, remember, for holdout Branch in September; Moss, however, cost them only a mid-round selection, and Stallworth was a free agent. Let’s not forget, too, that having Seattle’s first-rounder this year (for Deion) enabled them to trade their own first-rounder for a potentially higher one next year (the 49ers’).

So if this Great Receiver Experiment doesn’t work out — if Moss flashes a moon in Miami or chop-blocks another crossing guard with his car — the Pats will have two No. 1s with which to address the problem. This is what’s known as a Plan B, and it’s why New England is where it is … and other clubs are where they are. We won’t mention any names.

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