by Christopher Price
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a cramped interview tent just outside of University of Phoenix Stadium late Sunday night, Randy Moss paused slightly for a moment while he pondered the question: Would he be back next year as a member of the Patriots?
“If I am in a New England Patriots uniform next year, I would love to be in one,” he said. “If I am not, you know, the show must go on.”
Moss was talking about himself, but he could have been speaking for almost one-fifth of New England’s 53-man roster. The Patriots face a number of personnel questions heading into the offseason — many of the players who were on the field Sunday night against the Giants may have been playing their final game in a New England uniform.
On offense, Moss is the biggest question, and the Patriots figure to try and move heaven and earth to get him to sign a cap friendly deal for next season and beyond. The wide receiver took a sizable pay cut to join New England last spring, and was a key part of a record-setting offense. It is known that a handful of players have been approached to re-do their deals, presumably in hopes of bringing players like Moss back. But late Sunday night, Moss wouldn’t tip his hand as to what he planned to do going forward, saying only he was just looking forward to the chance to spend some time with his family.
“I am not approaching the offseason. I have a family. I got kids to love and raise,” Moss said when quizzed again about his future. “I’m going to be with my kids probably until May or June. I am not thinking of anything football right now, so I can just relax my mind, my body, and love my kids.”
In all, the wide receiver position could ultimately see the same sort of turnover as last season when the Patriots completed an extreme makeover, bringing in new faces Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker. Stallworth is due an option bonus that is reportedly between $6 million and $8 million the team is not likely to pick up. (Stallworth declined interview requests after Sunday’s game.) In addition, Jabar Gaffney is an unrestricted free agent, while 36-year-old veteran wide receiver Troy Brown, who played in just one game this year, is a possible candidate for retirement. Wide receiver/special teams ace Kelley Washington is also due a sizable roster bonus, reportedly $4 million, while two others special teams stars, long snapper Lonie Paxton and special teams captain Larry Izzo, are unrestricted free agents.
On defense, cornerback Asante Samuel faces an uncertain future. Samuel was slapped with the franchise tag last season, which meant a one-year tender of $7.79 million. He was displeased with the offer and held out, eventually returning to camp two weeks before the start of the season. After another strong season — he now has 16 interceptions the last two seasons — he’ll become an unrestricted free agent in March, and it’s believed he’ll be seeking a lucrative deal somewhere in the neighborhood of the eight-year, $80 million deal that San Francisco’s Nate Clements signed, a deal he’s not likely to get with the Patriots.
Like Moss, Samuel would not elaborate on his future after the game.
“Everyone is down and heartbroken,” Samuel said when asked about the scene in the locker room after the game. “[Head Coach Bill Belichick] just told us that he appreciated everything we were able to do this season, like working hard and giving it our all. We weren’t able to do what it takes, and everybody is heartbroken.”
Fellow defensive backs Randall Gay and Eugene Wilson are also question marks as unrestricted free agents. Gay’s future may be tied to Samuel — if Samuel leaves, the Patriots would likely make more of an attempt to re-sign Gay in hopes of maintaining more continuity and depth in the secondary. As for Wilson, he has been bypassed on the depth chart at safety by James Sanders, and by the end of the season, was fighting rookie Brandon Meriweather for playing time.
The linebacker position is also unclear. Rosevelt Colvin, who ended the season on injured reserve, has a cap number that’ll increase to approximately $7 million next spring. Tedy Bruschi, 34, talked about the possibility of retirement in the days leading up to the game. Retirement could also claim linebacker Junior Seau — however, the 39-year-old would not commit one way or another after the game. “I haven’t thought about the future,” Seau said shortly after the loss. “I am having too much fun.” Asked if the loss will effect his decision to retire or not, Seau said, “No, this will not effect my decision.”
Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].