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Failure To Franchise Moss Offers Case Study In Rumorology
Following up on an item in this week's Fantasy Notebook. ... The Patriots decision not to designate Randy Moss as their franchise player -- a move that officially allows the mercurial wideout to become an unrestricted free agent when the clock strikes midnight Thursday night -- has certainly turned up the heat in the pre-signing period rumor mill.

And according to FOXSports insider John Czarnecki, the most interesting rumor at the NFL Scouting Combine in recent days has Moss joining the Dallas Cowboys.

It should be noted that it's also been widely reported that the Cowboys are interested in Denver wideout Javon Walker -- with the immediate reaction of many observers being to wonder how Walker and Terrell Owens could peacefully coexist.

The Moss-to-Dallas rumor obviously takes the T.O side of that equation to another level.

And I will add a caveat here: As those who follow this site closely during the regular season already know, Czarnecki has a tendency to roll with some pretty incredible stuff at times. But Moss to Dallas? Where Owens is happily plying his trade??

In my opinion this one ranks pretty high on the incredible scale.

As Dallas Morning News staffer Albert Breer aptly put it, "T.O. managed to go a whole season without being a headache, but the Original 81's ego cannot handle sharing a huddle with the Other (Better) 81. ..."

All that said, I'm sharing this particular rumor in hopes readers take it the spirit offered: As an interesting example of the kind of chatter one can pick up at the combine -- a direct result of more than 400 reporters and just about every NFL coach, executive, scout and player agent all showing up in the same place at the same time.

But more importantly, like all the best rumors, this one boasts just the right combination of fact, speculation and innuendo necessary to pique our interest. It's a delicate, nuanced mélange with a variety of moving parts. As such, it provides an excellent case study in what I'll go ahead and call "rumorology."

Among the relevant points: A number of local reporters, including Boston Globe beat writer Mike Reiss and Providence Journal reporter Shalise Manza Young, have openly suggested a deal between Moss and the Patriots is already in place.

But Czarnecki advised readers the Patriots and Moss really aren't close to a new contract, although the Pats believe Moss will give them the option to match whatever deal he does receive on the open market.

Both theories are entirely plausible.

But as's Mike Florio pointed out last week, even if the two sides have agreed to a multi-year contract it cannot be announced until Feb. 29.

Meaning it can't actually be enforced until then, either.

So. ... The notion Moss can't move isn't in play.

The next question? Why would Moss want to move on?

Let's take a quick moment to review: After taking a pay cut when he was traded by Oakland to New England last April, Moss had an outstanding season. He set the NFL record with 23 touchdown catches in a season and totaled 98 receptions for 1,493 yards as the Patriots ran their record up to 18-0 before taking losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

He has gone out of his way to praise quarterback Tom Brady on a number of occasions. He clearly bought in the "Patriot way" of handling business -- even checking with coaches and teammates before going public with off-field issues that arose before the Super Bowl.

But perhaps more important than the huge totals and the team success he enjoyed in New England, the Patriots afforded Moss the opportunity to shove a big ol' collective sock in the mouths of his copious critics. The list doesn't just include reporters, analysts and commentators. It also includes the previous coaching staff in Oakland, who took Moss to task in the Boston media shortly after last April's trade.

And one doesn't have to read between the lines to realize Moss took a great deal of satisfaction in that aspect of his 2007 season.

Indeed, asked after the regular-season closer -- a game in which he broke the broke the all-time single-season receiving touchdown record previously held by Jerry Rice, Moss made it quite clear.

"I don't think me breaking Jerry Rice's record is special," Moss said. "I think shutting you guys up is what made it special, all the negativity, all my critics."

I do believe it's safe to say that guys like former Raider coordinator Tom Walsh, who told the Globe last May that "Moss is a player whose skills are diminishing, and he's in denial of those eroding skills," and former Raider head coach Art Shell, who predicted Moss would "drive Brady and [Bill] Belichick crazy," are among those Moss is taking great glee in disproving.

I believe it's equally safe to say that Moss realizes the Patriots -- in terms of personnel, scheme and coaching staff -- are a major reason he was able to make all the critics look silly.

Another aspect of the story is the role team officials' understanding of Moss might have played in the decision not to franchise him. In an article published this past Sunday, Boston Herald staffer Karen Guregian examined the decision, wondering why the team would leave Moss exposed, even if they have a deal in place or are nearing one?

The popular view, according to Guregian, is this: They simply didn't want to tick him off.

Guregian went on to note that while you'd franchise just about anyone else in this situation, Moss is a different animal. He's a 10-year veteran. He's already earned a ton of money in his career. He's also proved to be somewhat temperamental.

The Patriots handled him perfectly this season, knew which buttons to push and which ones to avoid.

As Guregian asked: "Why flip on the anger switch now? Why risk ruining a good thing?" insider Peter King agrees with that notion.

King explained it like this: "You don't pressure Randy Moss. You don't tell Randy Moss, here's what you're making in 2008, unless you sign a long-term deal to our liking. You give him the chance to breathe a little bit after the season, and you give him the freedom to do what he wants to do, and you think -- correctly, I think -- that he'll take a little less and do a short-term (three years, maybe) deal that both sides can live with."

King is right. Players never like being tagged, even if it's with the intention of working toward a long-term deal.

So, it appears the Pats are counting on having an unruffled Moss either make good on a deal they have in place or continue to hash out a deal that's in progress. Sirius NFL Radio host and NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots told Guregian that scenario makes sense.

"I can see where it's plausible where you don't want to put the tag on him," Wilcots said. "So I think they're either going to extend him to a long-term deal, make him happy there or make him happy by allowing him to go on the market."

Moss' teammates can't fathom losing him. A week after the Super Bowl, Rodney Harrison made bringing Moss back sound like a no-brainer.

"If you have any type of common sense or sanity, you'd want Randy Moss to come back. He's a tremendous player, a great teammate," Harrison said. "He played unselfish. He made plays and he worked extremely hard to improve his image and be one of the leaders in the locker room. You always want good people around you."

Still, the Pats are running a risk if Moss arrives on Friday without a deal in place and hits the open market. ... Which brings us to the Cowboys' role in our study.

Why would Dallas run the risk of upsetting Owens by bringing in another front-line wideout?

Well. ... As Florio suggested this morning, perhaps Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wouldn't mind correcting one of the biggest mistakes he ever made. Ten years ago, Jones was leaning toward selecting Moss with the eighth overall pick in the draft.

In the end, Jones passed. Later that year, Florio reminded readers, Moss caught three passes for three touchdowns in a Minnesota win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

So Florio wondered, "With Moss destined to hit the open market on Friday, could Jones' recent vow to put 'wow' in the offense result in a decision to add Moss?

"Think about it. Who in the heck would the defenses double-team? Focus on T.O., and Moss is wide open. Focus on Moss, and Owens runs free. Focus on both, and Jason Witten makes a helmetless rumble to the end zone."

When stated in that manner it almost makes sense -- even though we all know without a doubt it couldn't possibly work.

As Florio, arguing the other side, further suggested: "If there's concern about T.O. and Javon Walker not being able to co-exist, the entire NFL should get its popcorn ready to watch Owens explode when Moss rolls into town with the kind of contract Owens would love to have."

True that.

In discussing Chad Johnson's issues with the Bengals in a recent article, Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote, "Often with athletes, it's not the money. It's what the money represents. It's the number that matters. It's being able to compare pay stubs and declare, 'I'm better than you.' That's what this whole issue amounts to.

"Dollars and nonsense."

And of course, that's what we're talking about here. Does anybody really -- truly -- believe Moss is going to leave New England? And if he does, can anybody really -- truly -- imagine Owens being okay with Moss cutting into his totals??

Of course not.

But there isn't an NFL fan -- and certainly not a single Fantasy owner -- alive who doesn't love a good rumor. And this story is certainly that. ... Stay tuned. We'll obviously be hearing more on Moss in coming days.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the weekly Fantasy Notebook every Sunday.