Who’s the Answer?

By now, almost all sadness and anger surrounding the Randy Moss deal has vanished.  The focus of Patriot fans not lies squarely on who will fill the void that opened when Randy Moss departed to Minnesota.  Rumors have been swirling about Vincent Jackson, Deion Branch, and even Larry Fitzgerald.  All of these crazy scenarios being thrown around got me thinking about who, realistically, will be filling the Moss void.

Vincent Jackson

I said it last Wednesday and I’ll say it again, there is no shot that Vincent Jackson winds up in New England.  The trade just doesn’t make sense for either side.  Tom Curran was throwing it out there that the Pats and Chargers were exploring a Vincent Jackson for Logan Mankins deal.  In what world do we live in where a Pro Bowl guard is a suitable trading asset in return for a Pro Bowl wide receiver?  Then there were rumors that Belichick was stockpiling picks so he could deal them away for a guy like Jackson.  I think that we have learned over the years (especially on ever-frustrating draft day) that the Patriots love draft picks.  They may value draft picks more than any other team in the NFL.  Coach Belichick becomes giddy like a school girl when the opportunity presents itself for him to trade down in the draft and grab an extra pick.  So would it make much sense for Belichick to give up a second and third rounder (if not more) for Jackson?  I don’t think so.

Aside from those ridiculous rumors, Vincent Jackson is in the middle of a contract holdout.  The 27 year old, sixth year receiver reportedly wants to make around $9-$10 million a year.  Over his six year career, Jackson has amasses 3,400 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.  Over Randy Moss’ 13 year career, he has amassed 14,604 yards and 151 touchdowns.  Let us consider what these players, on average, have produced per season.  Over six years, Jackson has averaged 567 yards and 4 touchdowns per season.  Over 13 years, Moss has averaged 1123 yards and 12 touchdowns per season.  So, if you wouldn’t pay Randy Moss $10 million a year, why again are you willing to give it to Vincent Jackson?

Oh, you want to pay Vincent Jackson because he isn’t a “problem player” like Moss?  If Vincent Jackson became a member of the New England Patriots today, he would be facing a 6-game suspension because of violations of the league’s substance abuse policy (3 games) and because the Chargers placed him on the roster-exempt list because of his holdout (3 more games if he plays for another team).

Then you want Vincent Jackson because he is younger, and projects to be more productive at 28 and 29 than Randy Moss and 34 and 35?  First off all, Randy Moss’ 2008 and 2009 were both more productive than Jackson’s 2008 and 2009 seasons.  Secondly, Chargers’ current number one wideout Malcom Floyd is on pace to have about 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns; a season very similar to Jackson’s 2009 campaign.  Is Malcom Floyd not worthy of a $10 million a year contract?  Or maybe is the Chargers number one wideout (regardless of the name) a beneficiary of San Diego’s wide open, gin-slinger type offense?

Chance of Vincent Jackson winding up in New England – 0%

Deion Branch

The possibility of Deion Branch winding up in New England is certainly greater than the Jackson deal happening, but I wouldn’t say that it is a sure bet either.  Ever since Branch left New England after the 2005-2006 season, he has not lived up to the label as a number one wideout.  People tend to forget that in Branch’s best season with the Pats (2005-2006) he racked up only 998 yards and five scores.  That certainly isn’t a season to be scoffed at, but a wideout worthy of a first round pick in a trade?  I’m not buying it.  But, the Pats have been thanking the Seahawks for that deal ever since they drafted Brandon Meriweather with that pick in 2007.  Anyways, Branch has some familiarity with the system, but it has changed dramatically since 2006.  But, you can’t overlook the chemistry that he and Brady had.  Chemistry that lead to Branch being the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX (an epic 11 catches for 133 yards).

Branch would be a good fit to come in and help the Pats.  No one is going to replace Randy Moss, but Branch could provide some speed on the outside to try and help keep some of the coverage off of Wes Welker underneath.  And, at a price tag of a 5th or 6th round pick, Branch might be somewhat of a steal.

Chance of Deion Branch winding up in New England – 30%

Larry Fitzgerald

You are coach Ken Whisenhunt, and you know that your team isn’t doing much this season (even at 3-2 currently).  Your starting quarterback is an undrafted rookie.  What other reason do your fans have for coming to the game other than to watch Larry Fitzgerald play?  It took a first, third, and sixth round pick from the Cowboys to get Roy Williams away from Detroit.  I can’t even imagine what you would have to give Arizona for Fitzgerald, probably something like a 1, 2, and 4…if not more.  The Pats have the picks to do it, and I would love to see Fitzgerald in a Patriot uniform, but I can’t see Belichick making a deal even remotely close to that.

Chance of Larry Fitzgerald winding up in New England – 1%

Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Tate, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, etc.

The most plausible way to fill the void left by Randy Moss is by using the talent that the Patriots have amassed at the offensive skill positions.  Much has been made of Aaron Hernandez’s and Rob Gronkowski’s success as rookies so far in New England.  With Moss now gone, I can easily see each’s respective role growing.  Hernandez is a bigger version of Wes Welker.  He isn’t really fast, but he has exceptional quickness for a guy that is 6’1” 245lbs.  Hernandez can run through the middle and up the seam to try and keep the linebackers and safeties of opposing teams honest, and away from Welker.  Gronkowski is more of a mauler than Hernandez, but he has great hands for a big guy.  Look for Gronkowski’s size to be taken advantage of in both the run and pass game.  More two and three tight end sets will be seen to pound the ball with BJGE, as well as deploying Gronkowski into the end zone as a red zone target.  Brandon Tate has shown glimpses of electricity so far this season, and his role will look to expand with Moss’ departure.  Tate is not one of the few, if not the lone deep threat for the Pats (depending on Taylor Price’s contributions as the season progresses), and will be used as just that.  The deep ball will not be thrown as often in this new-look offense, but when it is thrown Tate is the most likely recipient.  Julian Edelman hasn’t played much so far this season, but we saw some of his ability last season when filling in for the then injured Wes Welker.  Edelman and Welker’s skill set are comparable, so similarly to Hernandez, look for Edelman to run a lot of those underneath routes to take some coverage away from Welker.

Chance of the aforementioned players being the main replacement for Randy Moss – 69%

Trading a sure-fire Hall of Fame player like Randy Moss is never an easy thing to over come.  But, it is important to realize that for Belichick to make this move he has to have a lot of confidence in the young offensive weapons that are currently on the roster.  Look for more emphasis on the run and play action passing, but to be completely honest, I don’t foresee much of a dip in the offensive production out of New England, even without Randy Moss.

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