But as is so often the case with the Patriots, things are not that simple.
Yes, this deal weakens their roster for 2010. It leaves them with Brandon Tate as the deep threat and probably a bunch of short throws to tight ends, running backs and Wes Welker. The instant reaction Wednesday morning brought up the possibility of the Patriots acquiring receiver Vincent Jackson from San Diego to replace Moss, but there's nothing yet to indicate that's been discussed. And besides, Jackson is suspended and wouldn't be able to play for the Patriots until Week 8 -- he may yet become part of the plan, but right now, he's not.
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The one thing about which you can be confident, if you're a Patriots fan, is that there is a plan. Belichick doesn't give up on seasons, and he also doesn't make a move without the bigger picture in mind. Don't think for a minute that he's not proud of acquiring Moss for a fourth-round pick and trading him for a third -- a swap that looks even better when you add in the 51 touchdown passes Moss caught while in New England.
But it's about more than that. As Moss himself made clear in that goofy news conference he gave after the Patriots' Week 1 game, he wasn't going to be back in New England next year. The Patriots knew that, and Belichick had already begun imagining how the offense would change without him. He likes the two tight ends he got in this year's draft -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. He likes Julian Edelman as a possession receiver in the Welker mode. He believes Tate has the speed to run deep routes -- maybe not the way Moss does, because nobody can, but at least well enough to make defenses think about it.
And most of all, he believes in Brady's talent and his star QB's ability to adjust to a new style of offense if that's what Moss' departure means.
Monday night's game in Miami may have been a dress rehearsal for life without Moss. Belichick spent time on the sidelines scheming with and firing up his defense, perhaps knowing how much more important they were about to become than they were in 2007, when the Patriots could outscore everybody on their schedule. All night, Moss was targeted once and made no catches. After the game, Moss smiled at reporters and said, "It's called a game plan." It may well be that Monday's game plan was designed to see if they could operate without Moss. And sure, if they can block punts the way they did Monday, they won't miss him.
The Patriots operate in a big-picture mode, always. If this year suffers in an effort to make future years better, then that's a conscious decision Belichick has made. He believes in stockpiling draft picks, and currently possesses an incredible two picks in each of the first four rounds of next year's draft. Whereas the Vikings are in win-now mode and are willing to sacrifice a piece of their future to get back into the 2010 NFC playoff race -- and the Chargers held onto their own disgruntled star receiver, Jackson, out of spite rather than trading him to the Vikings for a pick a couple of weeks ago -- the Patriots took a look and decided that a third-round pick in 2011 would be worth more to them in the big picture than would 12 more games from Moss in 2010.
You can argue with the wisdom of the decision -- and some Patriots fans who want to win this year and every year surely will -- but this is how the Patriots roll. In the end, all you can ask of your coach and your organization is that they have a plan and a vision for the way the team should be run. Bill Belichick and the Patriots, as much as any other team in the NFL, have that. And it's worked pretty well for them so far.