FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wes Welker may become more of a leader. Vince Wilfork doesn’t know if the team will be better or worse. Bill Belichick says he has confidence in all his players.
The New England Patriots moved on without Randy Moss on Thursday when they practiced for the first time since one of the NFL’s best receivers ever was traded to the Minnesota Vikings.
Some players were concerned that a friend was gone but noted that football is a business. Others chatted and joked as if it were a typical day. And Belichick spoke positively about the player who said he didn’t expect to be with the Patriots once his contract expired after this season.
“Randy was really a pleasure to coach. I enjoyed having him on our team,” Belichick said. “It was a difficult decision but one that I feel was in the best interests of the football team. … I wish Randy the absolute best.”
Several factors contributed to Wednesday’s trade, Belichick said, but didn’t specify them.
“I would say there was never any incident or discipline problem with Randy,” he said. “There never has been one with me in four years and it certainly wasn’t about contract and money.”
Belichick did send Moss and three other players home last year when they showed up late for team meetings during a snowstorm that had traffic backed up on Dec. 9.
Now that Moss is “back home” in Minnesota, as he said at a news conference Thursday, how will the Patriots offense respond?
“I have a lot of confidence in our total team, all of our players,” Belichick said.
Welker is their only proven receiver. Brandon Tate, a third-round draft pick last year, steps into a starting spot. Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez has the speed and shiftiness of a wide receiver but lacks experience.
So how can the Patriots, who received a third-round choice in next year’s draft for Moss, be better this year without him?
“I’m not going to sit here and say ‘no’ or ‘yeah.’ Time will tell,” said Wilfork, a nose tackle. “I’m happy with this team, with everybody that’s around here, young and old. … We’re getting ready for Baltimore. We’ll see what happens without Randy.
“We never had problems with Randy.”
The Patriots are 3-1 and tied for the AFC East lead. They have a bye week and play their next game Oct. 17 at home against the Baltimore Ravens (2-2).
That’s when Welker should see how defenses guard him without a deep threat like Moss drawing plenty of attention. They joined the Patriots together in 2007 and, in the first three years, Welker led the NFL with 346 receptions.
“Things may change a little bit, but we have some fast guys that can definitely go deep and stretch the field,” Welker said. “Obviously, Randy was one of the best in the game to do it.”
Without Moss, 33, the Patriots’ most experienced receiver is Welker.
He could play “maybe more of a leadership role as far as the receivers (go),” Welker said. “I’m the older guy in there now and just trying to bring these guys along.”
After the first game of the season, Moss had his agent, Joel Segal, ask Belichick for a trade, the Boston Herald reported Tuesday.
“That was kind of the difficult thing just because he was the guy always giving pep talks before the game, halftime, after the game,” Welker said, “but, at the same time, he’s doing what’s best for him. It’s a business and you’ve just got to just kind of roll with it. We have a sign that says, ‘if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here.’ And I guess, I’m not really sure the scenario or anything like that, but it’s kind of the way things worked out.”
Belichick said that when he spoke with Moss on Wednesday, the conversation was “honest, open, very forthright,” just as their discussions had been since Moss joined the team.
“There was no one thing” that led to the trade, Belichick said. “Part of it was just the personal relationship with Randy. And in talking to him, some of the feelings and things that he expressed that he and I talked openly about, when all was said and done and it all was put together, I felt like that was the best thing.”
At his news conference in Eden Prairie, Minn., Moss was asked if he had wanted to be traded.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. “All I can say is there’s no other place I’d rather get traded to besides Minnesota.”
He praised Belichick for bringing him to New England and said the experience, “is just something that I’ll never forget. We did some magical things up there, but the show must go on, and it is a business.”
His former teammates may miss him, but are confident they can keep winning.
“We all in this locker room love Randy,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “There’s nothing we can do to bring him back. All we’ve got to do is focus on playing and staying together.”