February was not a good month for the New England Patriots. March might not be much better.
On February 1, the Patriots seemed to be on the verge of making history as the first team ever to go 19-0 in a season. Quarterback Tom Brady was snickering at a prediction that his team would score just 17 points. As well he should have—New England had set a record for the most points ever scored by a team in a single season.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
In the days before the game, allegations surfaced that the Patriots had taped the Rams’ Saturday walk through the day before New England’s first Super Bowl win following the 2001 season. Sen. Arlen Specter started asking questions about why the league had destroyed the evidence obtained in the investigation of spying early in the 2007 season.
It looked like all was well when Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to Randy Moss with about two and a half minutes left in the Super Bowl, giving the Patriots at 14-10 lead over the Giants. The planned and advertised book entitled 19-0 about “New England’s Unbeatable Patriots” was ready to start rolling off of the presses.
The franchise has continued down the slippery slope ever since. The spying and taping allegations have not gone away and it’s possible that a former employee named Matt Walsh has some damaging evidence.
They couldn’t franchise cornerback Asante Samuel and he’s gone, signed by the Eagles.
They could have franchised Moss but they chose not to, apparently thinking that he would give the Patriots a home town discount even though he’d been in town for less than a year.
Wrong, or at least it appears to be right now.
It was widely believed that Moss and the Pats had a deal in place and were just waiting for Friday, the earliest he could sign a new contract, to finalize it. Well, Friday has come and it’s about to go and Moss is a free agent. There are reports that Moss is willing to take a free agent tour and visit other teams.
The Patriots are only about $5 million under the salary cap. It now appears likely that they will have to match, or at least come close to matching, an offer from a team with more cap room, maybe much more. The Eagles and Cowboys are two teams that come to mind.
In fact, one of those teams or perhaps another one could front load a deal in a manner that would make it very difficult for New England to match.
The smartest guys in the room may have been a little too clever for their own good.
In choosing not to franchise tag Moss, the Patriots exposed themselves to the possibility of losing one of their very best players.
There is no apparent reason why the Patriots didn’t apply the tag to keep Moss around until they could work out a long-term deal. They would have had to cut some cap dollars to fit the $7.84 million salary the designation calls for, but that could easily have been accomplished by restructuring a few contracts. No doubt, Brady would have been happy to cooperate.
But, in their typical arrogant way, the Pats decided to do things their way. It may turn out to have been the wrong way.
New England is supposed to be the NFL’s model franchise and a true dynasty. And, no doubt, even if Moss goes elsewhere the Patriots will still be among the favorites to win it all every year as long as Brady is behind center there. But the last time I checked, teams not named the Patriots have won the Super Bowl the past three years.
The smartest guys in the room could end up looking dumb and dumber.
You can reach Rich Tandler by email at richDOTtandlerATgmailDOTcom.
(Correction: According to a Patriots beat writer I contacted, New England is approximately $22 million under the salary cap. I regret using information that was outdated and/or inaccurate. Still, it makes the team’s decision not to tag Moss even more of a head-scratcher.)