By DAVE GOLDBERG
The Associated Press
Sunday, April 29, 2007; 6:44 PM
NEW YORK -- The trade of Randy Moss from Oakland to New England says a lot about the way the NFL treats character _ or characters. When Moss was traded to the Raiders two years ago, the Vikings got back a first-round pick and a starting linebacker. On Sunday, the Patriots got him for a fourth-round choice, largely because he dogged it in Oakland, where the worst work ethic in the NFL overrode his huge talent.
The Moss trade was part of an NFL draft where behavior was a major issue, especially since commissioner Roger Goodell has demonstrated he'll be tough on players who get in trouble with the law. He already has suspended Tennessee's Adam "Pacman" Jones for a year and Cincinnati's Chris Henry for eight games. Further disciplinary action for other could be coming.
Only two players with "issues," Jarvis Moss of Florida and Brandon Meriweather of Miami, were taken in the first round.
Meriweather, suspended for a game last season, for stomping on Florida International players during a fight, went to New England to join Randy Moss. Jarvis Moss, suspended for a game for marijuana use, went to Denver, which on Sunday drafted another "problem player" from the Gators, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas in the fourth round.
Thomas is considered to have first-round talent. But after being suspended for a game last season for marijuana use, he was kicked off the team by coach Urban Meyer for leaving Gainesville with friends to go to Orlando against Meyer's orders.
"There are going to be a lot of questions about some of the things he has done, including being suspended from Florida," said coach Mike Shanahan, who two years ago took a chance by picking the troubled Maurice Clarett late in the third round.
"Marcus is probably one of the luckiest guys. We are giving him the opportunity to come back here, and here there is no second chance. He is obviously a good football player and a guy that we think a lot of; I think he has learned that he will not get a second chance in the NFL, and we are extremely excited to have him with the organization."
As much of a headache as he's been to his former teams, Randy Moss has had only one relatively minor run-in with the law since entering the NFL in 1998 _ although he dropped to 21st overall in the draft because of off-field issues in college.
Now he gets to play for Bill Belichick, as strong-willed as Shanahan. Both are coaches who think they can deal with troubled players, although Shanahan got nowhere with Clarett, who was cut because he was too slow and too fat, not because he caused trouble.
And Belichick got three productive seasons from Corey Dillon, a talented running back with a reputation for me-first behavior.
He could salvage Moss, who said Sunday, "I was overwhelmed, because I didn't expect to hear from coach Belichick
Randy Moss and Dillon are established NFL players _ stars at there best. Especially Moss, although during his two seasons in Oakland, the lethargic habits he sometimes demonstrated in Minnesota ("I play when I feel like it") were on display regularly on the NFL's worst team.
The draft picks haven't proven their ability yet. But the most talented certainly get the chance.
Another player with a clouded past to go early was Eric Wright, a cornerback from UNLV chosen by Cleveland in the second round with the 52nd pick. The Browns traded up to take Wright, a projected first-rounder by some scouts. Wright left Southern California after being charged with rape. That charge was later dropped.
"We did the background check which includes police reports. ... We were comfortable with where we were (or) we would have taken him off of our board," Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "We left Eric Wright where we thought he should be."
Wright was grateful, and said Sunday what happened at USC has made him wary of "the people I associate myself with.
"I grew up in a strong household and was an honor roll student my entire life. I went to an all boys Catholic school. I really need to present myself in a proper light so people can really know who I am. I think this organization has done all they could to get the proper information. That's why I think they were comfortable in picking me and trading up to get me. I really appreciate that."
Wright could represent the other side of Goodell's "get tough" policy.
While the rookie commissioner has made it clear he will crack down on continued transgressions, he's also emphasized a willingness to forgive one-time mistakes.
Last week, when five prospective first-round picks visited his office, he apologized to two of them, Calvin Johnson and Gaines Adams, for reports they had answered "yes," to a question at the scouting combine as to whether they ever used marijuana. He also ordered the question no longer be used in questionnaires, said he will punish teams who leak information, and pledged to apologize to a third player named in the report, Amobi Okoye.
Johnson was chosen second overall by Detroit, Adams fourth by Tampa Bay and Okoye 10th by Houston, an obvious sign the answers didn't hurt them.
Actually, neither the misbehavior nor the leaked reports are new.
In 1995, there were erroneous reports before the draft Warren Sapp had used cocaine. Bill Polian, now president of the Colts and then general manager of the Carolina Panthers, jumped to Sapp's defense publicly and although Sapp fell to 12th overall _ lower than he would've been taken without the report _ he's not been in off-field trouble during his 12 NFL seasons.
No one really knows the career paths of Wright, Jarvis Moss, Thomas and the handful of other players with histories who were drafted this weekend.
As for Randy Moss in New England?
He will be a test of the theory that players who are surrounded by men of good character play their best. Being on a team with veteran leaders such as Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel might well temper Moss' 'tude. The Patriots were already are a preseason favorite to win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years. If Moss plays to his ability, New England becomes even more formidable.
If Jarvis Moss and Thomas play as well as they did on a national championship college team, Denver might be title contender, too.
Yes, character issues work both ways.