Realistically, there is no way the Patriots can retain their current financial philosophy and retain the contract-seeking trio of Moss, Brady and Wilfork. It's just not possible unless someone is willing to take well below market value to remain in Fort Foxborough. So, somebody goes and the monetary mantra stays in place.
When Moss made his comments at Heath Evans' charity softball game on Saturday that he thought 2010 was his last season with the Patriots he may have just done the math and realized he was the odd man out.
You can call the Patriots the misers of the NFL, but they're not going to change the way they do business. That's like asking an atheist to go to Easter Sunday Mass, the belief system is too ingrained. The team looks at its business model over the last decade and the success it has spawned as proof positive of their philosophy of fiscal restraint.
While it is frustrating to watch talented players leave for greener pastures and witness every contract negotiation the team goes through become a tedious tug of war until the player either capitulates or breaks free of the rope, the Patriots aren't a cut-rate operation, just a cutthroat one.
It's a little bit of a cheap shot to call them cheap.
Over the past five years the Patriots are in the top 16 in the NFL in actual dollars paid out to players -- or straight cash, homey, as Moss would say -- at $540 million. By comparison, the Colts and Jets spent $546 and $542 million, respectively, during the same time, as first reported by old pal Mike Reiss.
The top spenders during the last five years are Dallas, Washington and Oakland, who between them have three egomaniacal owners and one playoff win, the Cowboys' 34-14 wild card win over the Eagles in January, to show for it. That makes the point that it's not just what you spend, but how you spend.
That's where the Patriots are open to criticism.
In the end, the team would have been better served signing Asante Samuel to a long-term deal in 2007 than shelling out the largest free agent contract in team history to bring aboard linebacker Adalius Thomas (five years, $35 million). Right now, they would be better off signing Wilfork, which judging by the tone of the press release they put out to announce their decision to slap him with the franchise tag on Monday is their goal, than spending the money in pursuit of Julius Peppers, especially because they dealt away Richard Seymour.
Moss was partially right when he said "the Patriots don't pay," while talking about his belief he won't be brought back after his contract expires at the end of this season. They don't pay any more than they have to. Nickel and dime are not just defenses coach Bill Belichick employs; they're what the team will fight a player for.
It's just the price they have to pay to keep their players has gone up.
Last year at the NFL owners' meeting, Patriots owner Robert Kraft touched on what he called the brand equity the Patriots had fostered with their track record of success. He astutely pointed out that it enabled the Patriots to bring in players like Moss, who reduced his salary to help facilitate the trade between the Patriots and the Raiders.
Like a lot of things in this economy the lure of playing for the Patriots has depreciated in market value. That's what two seasons without a playoff win will do.
Wilfork has already made it clear he's not going to offer a significant hometown discount to the Patriots, and Brady, whose contract is up after 2010, could follow suit if the Colts follow through on their promise to make Peyton Manning, also entering the final year of his deal, the highest-paid player in the game.
Reading between the lines of Moss's contract comments, the redoubtable wide receiver isn't going to do after this season what he did the last time his deal was up in 2007, which is take less to remain with the Patriots. That's a big reason he feels that 2010 could be his last season in a Patriot uniform.
"I think when you get around a good team and a great group of guys, that you fall in love with where you are," Moss said on Saturday night at the charity softball game of former teammate Heath Evans. "The guys that I've grown to appreciate and love -- Tom, [Kevin] Faulk, [Vince] Wilfork -- guys like that that I enjoy coming to work every day and leaving work. I'm having fun with what I'm doing, but like I've said this is a business. This is no longer football. This is a business."
Why should Moss take a pay cut to play for the Patriots? His chances of winning a Super Bowl in New England are not as great as they appeared after the almost-perfect 2007 season when he re-upped with the Patriots via a three-year, $27 million deal with a $12 million signing bonus. Even that deal was team-friendly, a euphemism for below-market, because Moss could have gotten more money from the Eagles.
The 33-year-old Moss, who is likely looking at the next contract of his career being the last, wasn't out to cause a panic with his comments. He was simply parroting the party line that we hear so often from teams when they let a player walk because he is no longer worth keeping -- "This is a business," and business decisions are always about money.
We know the Patriots' business-model won't change. Now, we'll see if the Patriots' players really plan to change theirs.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.