Moss, Pats work out differences to keep relationship together

For more than a week before the start of free agency, the
New England Patriots felt confident they wouldn't lose Randy Moss.

They were so confident that they didn't place the franchise tag on him, knowing he wouldn't appreciate being held to a one-year contract. Yet Moss started feeling antsy on Friday regarding the Patriots' negotiations and got the word out that he was willing to listen to offers from other teams. One written report had the Eagles willing to offer more than the three-year, $27 million contract Moss accepted from the Patriots. It wouldn't be surprising that other teams would be interested at a higher number than $9 million per year.

So what happened that allowed Moss to return to New England? Simply, an upgrade of guarantees in the contract sealed the deal.

With a $116 million salary cap, contract numbers have skyrocketed, forcing Moss to play a little more hardball in his negotiations. Former Raiders teammate Jerry Porter got $10 million in guarantees to sign with Jacksonville. When Bernard Berrian, who came close to having his first 1,000-yard season in '07 with the Bears, received $16 million in guarantees from Minnesota, Moss wasn't going to settle for any contract that was going to give close to $10 million in guarantees.

Feeling the losses of Donte' Stallworth, Asante Samuel and Randall Gay on Sunday night, the Patriots knew they had to step up and make a Moss deal work. Tom Brady would have been furious if Moss left. After all, three of the team's top four receivers were free agents, and Moss had a 23-touchdown season. Brady didn't want the passing offense to regress.

The Patriots stepped up by giving Moss a $12 million signing bonus and $3 million in guarantees. Though he didn't hit the $16 million in guarantees given to Berrian, he accepted a deal that was three years shorter, and more than half of it was guaranteed.

Egos play a part in all negotiations. Teams like to win negotiating battles. Players believe they are either the best in the game or the best at their positions, so they want to be paid more than the highest-paid player. Moss, with more than 12,000 career receiving yards and more than 120 career touchdowns, wasn't going to accept a bad deal.

The three-year, $27 million contract was a win-win for both sides. Sure, the Patriots would have loved to have won the negotiation, so they tried to convince Moss to play for $7 million per year and make up the rest with incentives. Moss accepted their terms a year ago, letting his salary drop from $10 million to $3 million and having $2 million achievable in incentives. The Patriots gambled on him after two tough seasons with the Raiders. Moss gambled that by taking less he could enjoy football more in New England.

As a smart player who has been around the game for 10 years, Moss understood he wasn't going to get the highest average and the highest signing bonus to stay in New England. In order to keep the Patriots' talented roster together, some of the top players had to make sacrifices to stay. By taking a little less than the top player at the position, Moss gave Bill Belichick the cap room and the budget to add more veteran role players to run his defense and help out on offense.

Moss re-signing in New England was meant to be. Friday and Saturday each side tested the other's will, but in the end, they reached a deal that was fair. Moss didn't want to leave a winning team.

Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.