Genius Move: Patriots Unloading Randy Moss on Vikings

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Sometimes it seems the media commentators ignore simple explanations.

In the wake of Wednesday's trade by the New England Patriots of wide receiver Randy Moss to Minnesota in exchange for a 2011 draft pick, reporters are picking apart the Patriots locker room, searching for the "real reason" the Patriots made this trade. Speculation and rumor abound, with disputed stories of Moss not getting along with teammates, arguing with coaches and even disrespecting the team owner. Meanwhile the man responsible for trading Moss, Bill Belichick, has stated repeatedly, categorically and emphatically that there were no personal problems or discipline issues with Moss, that he was a pleasure to coach and was professional at all times. The media just can't bring themselves to believe him.

I believe him. Moss was traded for the obvious reason. He's in the last year of his contract and the Patriots, unwilling to pay market value (or use the franchise tag) to retain Moss' services for next season, wanted to get something for him rather than nothing. The mid-round draft right is something. The Patriots figured that the value of the pick was worth more than the value Moss gave them over his replacement player for the rest of the season. In other words, if the Vikings offered Moss to New England as essentially a 12-game rental in exchange for a third-round draft pick, New England would refuse the trade and keep the pick.

Reporters search for the "real reason" because at bottom they don't see the value in any draft picks except those in the first round or two of the draft. Years of reading the sports pages has convinced me that NFL teams value draft choices much more than do NFL sports writers. Every year at draft time, sports writers write the easy column about how worthless most draft picks are and how poorly teams do at selecting players. It is true that many drafted players never perform up to expectations. Teams draft poorly (sports writers don't grade on a curve, it appears), while players who went undrafted become stars. So, in the eyes of the media, lower-round draft picks are just a waste. (Put it this way: if Moss had been exchanged for Minnesota's first-round pick, reporters would not be poking around for dirt on Moss.)

Yet the fact of the matter is that nearly every NFL player and even moreso nearly every star NFL player was in fact drafted. Most players were drafted below the first two rounds. These low-round picks have real value. What was the value to the Patriots of the sixth-round pick that netted Tom Brady? Even if only one in one-hundred sixth round picks ever become stars (as opposed, as a guess, one in ten of first-round picks and one in forty of third-round picks), there's still value there. Finding a single star contributor is worth "wasting" many draft picks. Even if the player the Pats ultimately receive for Moss turns out to be a dud, there's still value in having the chance.

As a nice bonus, these mid-round drafted players come cheaply in terms of salary. As another bonus, the Patriots gain next year by giving Moss' young replacement some valuable game experience this year. Judging from their history in trading away players in the last year of their contracts (Richard Seymour, Deion Branch), the Patriots do not like to let valuable players leave for nothing. The simplest explanation is the best.