|RANDY MOSS Deal in place?|
INDIANAPOLIS - There will be no game of tag between the Patriots and Randy Moss, as the club declined to place the franchise label on the receiver by yesterday's 4 p.m. deadline.
Moss, whose contract expires when the league year ends next Thursday, can still return to the club next season, although the Patriots surrender leverage by not tagging him.
Had the Patriots placed the tag on Moss, interested teams would have to surrender two first-round draft choices to sign him, an exorbitant price that most often scares suitors away. Without the tag, Moss is technically free to shop himself to all teams once free agency begins next Friday, and those clubs would not have to give up compensation to sign him.
Yet that second scenario is unlikely because Moss and the Patriots have expressed their desire to reach a multiyear contract extension. The 31-year-old Moss has told friends how much he enjoys playing with Tom Brady, privately wondering what his career would have been like had he been with a quarterback of Brady's caliber earlier.
At the Super Bowl, Moss said: "I would love to finish my career [as a Patriot], just for the fact they have everything you want in a football organization. For me to be able to say that I would love to become a New England Patriot and finish my career here, that is something that I can really believe in."
It's possible the parameters of a deal are in place, but it cannot be finalized or enforced because players are allowed to extend or restructure existing contracts only once in a league year. Moss had restructured his contract to consummate his trade to New England from Oakland in late April, meaning the sides cannot finalize a deal until next Friday.
So should Moss have a change of heart over the next seven days, he would be free to test the open market with no restrictions. Such situations are rare, although they do happen.
The New York Giants were steamed two years ago when defensive lineman Kendrick Clancy reneged on a verbal agreement. The Giants thought they had a deal with Clancy, but when free agency opened, the Cardinals swooped in and signed him.
Surely, the Patriots are aware of that possibility with Moss. The club isn't usually quick to give up such leverage, so there is surely some good faith involved as both sides navigate their way through the process.
Eleven NFL players were assigned the franchise label this offseason, while a 12th, Colts tight end Dallas Clark, was initially tagged before signing a long-term extension.
Players generally don't like the tag because it restricts their ability to fully benefit in the open market, given the draft pick compensation required to sign them. Also, the tag is a short-term arrangement, restricting players from signing a long-term contract with a coveted large up-front signing bonus.
Of the Patriots' free agents, Moss seemed to be the likeliest for the tag. The other option would have been cornerback Asante Samuel, but he could not be franchised per agreement between the sides last year.
A player who receives the non-exclusive franchise tag is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries of last season at his position, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary. In Moss's case, it would have been a $7.84 million salary for one year.
The Patriots have used the tag four times, on kicker Adam Vinatieri (2002 and 2005), safety Tebucky Jones (2003), and Samuel (2007).
Moss's agent, Tim DiPiero, was not available for comment.
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.