By: Bob George/
April 29, 2007

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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill

FOXBOROUGH -- Deep inside the caverns of the palace known as Gillette Stadium, there is believed to be a room known to few outside the inner circle of the Patriots.

This fanciful room is filled with suitcases, duffle bags, backpacks and other various and assorted types of baggage. Some of it came from Corey Dillon in 2004. You might find some of Donte Stallworth's stuff over in the left corner. Doug Gabriel has a few items nearby. And on Saturday, Brandon Meriweather left a couple pieces of luggage next to Stallworth's. The room was filling up fast, and by Saturday night it was about half full.

By Sunday morning, the baggage room was packed to the gills.

Patriot Nation awoke Sunday morning with some huge news, startling to some, and overpowering to others. Randy Moss, one of the biggest manchildren in recent NFL history, became a Patriot thanks to the team sending one of its four fourth-round draft picks to Oakland. Despite Moss being perhaps the most physically gifted wide receiver to ever play the game, his career has been dominated by behaviour issues, bad attitudes, taking plays off and general underachievement. Despite the Raiders' reputation for taking problematic players like Moss and giving them sanctuary over the years, Moss was too much for Oakland and they felt compelled to have to trade him.

And this was one day after taking the stud quarterback they so desperately needed, LSU's JaMarcus Russell. This proves how desperate the Raiders were to move Moss.

So, what is it with the Patriots? Is this the new NFL halfway house? Is this now the new place where talented men from the neck down go to finally grow up? Is Gillette Stadium the new finishing school of the NFL, where at the end of the season the Patriots throw a big cotillion where these high maintenance players can bring dates and have to show off all that they learned about Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt?

Bill Belichick is secure in his belief that these players can and will succeed in his system, or else they wouldn't be here. When Meriweather was chosen at 24 on Saturday, the subplots of the safety from Miami came out quicker than his right foot landing on the helmet of a Florida International player. Most of you already know about Moss. But Belichick has a concrete-solid system in place, so secure that you could bring a Moss into a place like this and actually believe that he will flourish.

Before dissecting what happened this weekend, let's back up and explore two of the free agents Belichick signed over the winters, wideouts Stallworth and Kelley Washington.

Washington comes from Cincinnati, fast becoming the NFL penitentiary and Paul Brown Stadium being fitted for prison bars. Washington doesn't have the rap sheet that nine of his teammates have, but coming from that program, one naturally has to be cautious. Stallworth, on the other hand, according to an report, is believed to be in the NFL substance abuse program (confidentiality rules forbid actual disclosure) and could face a long suspension if he tests positive for drug usage.

Both Washington and Stallworth signed contracts which will keep them here for at least one year, and longer if they live up to their billing. Drew Rosenhaus, Stallworth's agent (and also Terrell Owens' agent) came up with this deal involving roster bonuses every year for the next six years which, if all realized, could bring Stallworth about $33 million. Washington signed a similar deal, which could bring him 5 years and $22 million if he realizes his maximum potential. Both deals insulate the Patriots if either player should flake out instead of delivering the goods, and both deals were hailed by most everyone as "typical Patriot genius".

Now we return to Draft Weekend, and what to do with Meriweather and Moss.

Meriweather has a ton of upside. He is a murderously hard hitter who might project to replace Rodney Harrison some day if he can add more muscle and bulk to his frame (NFL scouts have him as a free safety, too small to play strong safety). But he can also play cornerback, and the versatility Meriweather brings to the table is always a good quality that Belichick likes in a player. Michael Smith of ESPN, who used to write for the Globe, talked about Meriweather being a great help to Ellis Hobbs in nickel packages and professed a great love for the pick.

But what of the indiscretions? Meriweather was caught on video stomping on the helmet of a Florida International player during that celebrated melee last fall, and he was also involved in a gun incident where he was forced to fire his weapon in defense of a friend. Sean Salisbury of ESPN called both incidents "one-time only", while Mark May referred to the helmet-stomping incident as "heat of the moment, sticking up for a teammate" and did anything but condemn him for the incident. The weapons charge was dismissed, as Meriweather did actually own the weapon and what he did was determined as legal.

Moss, meanwhile, came out of Marshall in 1998 (the Patriots could have had him but instead drafted running back Robert Edwards) with the ability to catch a long touchdown pass on literally every play. Moss injected life into the entire Minnesota organization, and the Vikings blistered their way to a 15-1 record that year. They seemed headed for a Vince until they were cut down at home by Atlanta in overtime in the NFC Championship Game, and the Vikings have never really recovered from that infamous loss.

Moss went downhill from there. He would take plays off, lollygag out on the field, give away run plays, and in a celebrated moment from the 2004 NFC playoffs against Philadelphia, loused up a 2-point conversion which proved crucial in the Vikings' loss. He ran over a police officer in 2002 and was subsequently arrested for possession of marijuana. In a 2005 playoff game at Green Bay, he pretended to "moon" the Packer home crowd. Arguably his most infamous moment came in a 2004 game against Washington where he walked off the field before the game was over, sending a message that he was quitting on his team.

Many observers think that Moss will turn out like Dillon, in that he was problematic only because he was part of a losing team. Once he came to New England, Dillon became the premier running back everyone thought he would be, and set a team record for yards gained on his way to a Super Bowl championship. He seemed poised for more productive years until age finally caught up with him. Moss is 30 years old and could be facing similar age issues soon, but in coming to a team with a great chance to win Super Bowl XLII, Moss might revert to his 1998 form and be a top contributor, relatively speaking. The fact that he redid his contract, and said that he would only do that for the Patriots, is quite encouraging.

Moss came to Foxborough Sunday and passed his physical. According to the NFL Network, he met with coaches on Sunday to plan a conference call. One reporter remarked that one should take notice of how silent Moss has been through all this (as opposed to Owens, for example), which Patriot Nation should also take as a good sign. Instead of holding a press conference somewhat akin to something President Bush might do, Moss is hunkered down in the Patriot camp, already doing what the coaches tell him to do.

Several people have brought up an old Bill Parcells saying: "The light is yellow and about to turn red." If Moss understands this full well, maybe he can become like Dillon and produce at his highest (for his age) levels. If he can do that, this will then become a coup for the Patriots. Until he shows that he can do just that, you'll look at Moss and constantly be looking at that proverbial traffic light.

And if the light turns red, that fanciful baggage room quickly goes back to half full again.