When it comes to Moss, Patriots have a lot to consider

Randy Moss changed how the New England Patriots played offense in 2007.

He could have a harder time changing the way they do business.
Moss' contract expires late this month, setting up an interesting offseason for all parties.

The Patriots aren't afraid to watch very good players leave if those players do not fit into their salary structure. Deion Branch lacked Moss' physical gifts as a receiver, but he proved useful in Super Bowls, and all it got him from New England was a one-way ticket to Seattle.

So let's not assume the Patriots will bring back Moss just to keep quarterback Tom Brady happy.

The Patriots will pay $8 million in salary and bonuses to Brady this year. But if they wanted his advice on personnel, the team never would have traded Branch, a clutch player and one of Brady's best friends on the team.

The NFL calendar could dictate the Patriots' next big offseason move.

Teams have until Feb. 21 to name franchise and transition players. The smart money says the Patriots will name Moss their franchise player, then take their chances working out a multiyear deal. This option protects the Patriots from losing Moss without compensation, while buying time for negotiations.

Moss played for about $5 million last season, helping the Patriots win 18 consecutive games before falling to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

The franchise number for receivers is $7.84 million. Moss would obviously command far more on a multiyear deal, but only if he is free to negotiate one.
The Patriots held the meaningful cards when they acquired Moss from Oakland before last season. They offered the winning environment Moss craved. They could promise an MVP quarterback in his prime.

Moss was never going to find a place more conducive to re-establishing himself as a hard-working player, and a dominant one. He caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns in his debut Patriots season. That means he holds more cards now than he did a year ago, but he still needs the Patriots to deal him in.

Moss could reasonably claim that he played at a discount in 2007, and therefore the Patriots should reward him as the highest-paid receiver in the game. But if New England was unwilling to pay on that scale for players who helped them win multiple championships, how much will the Patriots set aside for Moss?

The one-year franchise price stands as a relative bargain. After paying $7.79 million to cornerback Asante Samuel at the franchise rate for his position, the Patriots could easily justify $7.84 million for Moss.

But what if Moss feels entitled to more than the Patriots are willing to pay him? Professionals can agree to disagree, but a player's dissatisfaction can affect his play. Would Moss be worth the $7.84 million if the Patriots received less in return from an unhappy player? Would Moss still be a great teammate? Would the dynamics change in a negative way if New England handed Moss a lucrative long-term deal with millions in guarantees?

Moss has recast himself as all about winning. He never complained about not getting the ball enough during the playoffs, when teams found ways to mute his impact more consistently. And when faced with single coverage in Super Bowl XLII, Moss easily scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than three minutes remaining.

Moss has earned a huge raise, no question, but the Patriots still should evaluate their needs before making financial exceptions following a season that ended with disappointment.

With each Patriots season that passes without another championship, it's fair to wonder a little louder if the organization has erred in failing to pay some of its best. A healthy Branch might not have helped much against the Giants, but the Patriots sorely missed the physical presence Daniel Graham once provided at tight end.

What kind of team passes the ball 41 of 44 times from three- and four-receiver personnel groupings when those plays are netting 3.3 yards on average? The Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, by my count.

New England passed at will deep into the regular season. The Patriots' offensive production dropped off late in the season and through some of the playoffs. Their inability to function for long stretches against the Giants raised questions about how best to win championships.

The Patriots became predictable in the Super Bowl even though they never trailed by more than three points or led by more than four.

Beginning with a second-and-13 play in the second quarter, the Patriots passed 26 times in a row when they showed three receivers, one tight end and Kevin Faulk or Laurence Maroney at running back. This included eight plays on first down and the mysterious decision to throw instead of kick on fourth-and-13.

The Patriots played nine snaps with four receivers, including seven on first and second downs. Faulk was on the field for all nine, but the Patriots passed every time. Brady
averaged a measly 3.8 yards on these attempts.

It's all good in victory, of course, and second-guessing is fair only to a point.

A single defeat in the final minute shouldn't automatically deter the Patriots from fielding another pass-oriented offense featuring Moss in large doses.
But after such a painful defeat, one that marked a third consecutive season without a title, the Patriots will presumably think hard about what made them champions in the first place.

Mike Sando covers the NFL for ESPN.com.