Randy Moss is great at eluding coverage.
His 148 touchdown receptions (second all-time) and 14,465 receiving yards speak to that. So, does the fact that as the preseason comes to a close tonight against the New York Giants not a word has been uttered by Moss about his contract status -- or anything else for that matter.
Moss has not spoken all preseason, taking a monk-like vow of silence until after the first regular-season game, or so we're told. There has been an abundance of words wasted speculating on the contract negotiations of franchise quarterback Tom Brady and Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, but not much musing about Moss's future in Foxborough.
However, how Moss handles his contract year will have a significant effect on the Patriots' season. Next to TB12, he is the Patriots' most indispensable player. If he's unhappy or unmotivated then losing Leigh Bodden will slip down the list of coach Bill Belichick's problems. All this talk of more balance and running the ball more isn't going to help the 33-year-old Moss's goal of getting a lucrative contract.
There have been some signs during the offseason that this could be a turbulent season for Moss, who took a team-friendly three-year, $27-million deal in 2008.
He's already on record as saying that he thinks this will be his last year as a Patriot and that the Patriots "don't really pay." He fired his long-time agent, Tim DiPiero, in May and signed on with Joel Segal in July. He spoke of wanting someone who could get him more endorsement dollars.
Moss in a contract year is like an episode of "Jersey Shore," because something entertaining is bound to happen, for better or worse. The last time Moss was in a contract year, he re-wrote the NFL receiving record book by breaking Jerry Rice's record for TD catches in a season with an incredible 23.
Moss now has an option route. He can be Adrian Beltre, or he can be Manny Ramirez.
He can do what he's been doing ever since he slipped on a Patriots uniform in 2007, which is light up the league and make defenses pay, to make sure someone pays him next season. Or he can sulk because the organization he has caught an NFL-best 47 touchdown receptions for over the last three seasons isn't making re-signing him a priority and check out like he did against the Carolina Panthers last season.
Moss and Manny are comparable in that their prodigious talents are matched only by their petulance and unpredictability. You can't get the talent without the temperament. They're a package deal. The talent allows teams to overlook or put up with the temperament -- at least until it becomes so overwhelming they can't ignore it. It allows the players to operate by a different set of rules.
Such was the case Wednesday night at the Patriots' Charitable Foundation Kickoff Gala at Gillette Stadium.
Moss was disengaged and aloof. While his teammates sat at tables with fans who had paid premium dollar for the honor of breaking bread with a Patriot in the name of charity, Moss was M.I.A.
Not in a charitable mood, he sat alone by an auction table with his headphones on during the formal part of the festivities. While guest speakers talked about their family's battles with cancer and Patriots owner Robert Kraft took to the dais to implore cancer screening, awareness and prevention, a misanthropic Moss kept his distance.
Comcast SportsNet showed video afterward of Moss turning down an adult autograph request. The signature-seeker asked Moss if he was excited for the start of the season, and the receiver's reply was succinct: "Nope."
Moss's behavior was at best childish and churlish and at worst disrespectful to the man that signs his check, Kraft, to whom the Gala is like opening his home. It's understood that Moss doesn't like signing autographs for adults -- he has a point there, by the way -- but this was a charity event. Moss wasn't even paying attention when his good buddy, Vince Wilfork, won the team's Ron Burton Community Service Award.
He separated himself from the team, like he has so many overmatched defensive backs.
One key difference between Moss and Manny is that while Ramirez's teammates often appeared to be merely tolerating him and his antics, Moss's teammates genuinely like him. One of Moss's closest friends on the team is running back Kevin Faulk, as no-nonsense a football player as there is. Moss is so popular that he was a team captain in 2008 and 2009.
Before Wednesday night, Moss had been a model citizen during the preseason. He was the team's most dedicated post-practice autograph signer, and had a memorable moment where he let a young fan in the stands toss him a pass.
Remember Ramirez reinvented himself, or tried to, in 2008, when he was trying to get a contract extension from the Red Sox. Once it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, Ramirez reverted to his petulant ways, paving his path out of town. After a brief image makeover in Southern California, the Real Ramirez reappeared this year in a contract year.
It's hard to know who the Real Randy Moss is.
Is it the playful guy who signed autographs all summer long or the sullen superstar that ignored everyone around him, including his own teammates, at a team charity event? Is it the guy who tied for the NFL-lead in touchdown catches last season with 13 (bet you forgot about that) and had 83 receptions for 1,264 yards or the guy who wouldn't even look Brady in the eyes on the sidelines last season during a tepid performance against the Panthers, who accused him of quitting?
Which way will Moss go with his behavior in a crucial season for him and the team? Like any cornerback not named Darrelle Revis, the Patriots can only guess and hope they don't get burned.
...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.