Moss is focus of rumors

Times Staff Writer

A month after the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl, one of their superstars remains unsigned.

The NFL Network reported Sunday night that All-Pro receiver Randy Moss, who broke Jerry Rice’s NFL record with 23 touchdown receptions last season, and the Patriots are close to a deal.

Earlier, citing sources close to the receiver, the NFL Network and had reported Moss was growing frustrated by a lack of progress in negotiations with the Patriots and might entertain other offers. Neither the Patriots nor Moss have commented on the situation.

There is widespread speculation about which franchises might compete for his service, among them Dallas, Green Bay and Indianapolis -- all of whom have excellent quarterbacks, a prerequisite Moss has stated in the past.

Advertisement reported Sunday that Moss and Daunte Culpepper, his old Minnesota Vikings quarterback, spoke Saturday about reuniting with a team. Culpepper, who played for Oakland last season, is also an unrestricted free agent.

Judging by their past statements, the Patriots want Moss to stay, although they passed on a chance last month to virtually ensure that by designating him their franchise player. Moss has repeatedly expressed his desire to finish his career in New England.

It’s generally believed the Cowboys could make salary-cap room for Moss by reworking some existing deals, and possibly postponing his big payday until 2010, which will be uncapped if team owners and the players’ union fail to negotiate an extension to the collective bargaining agreement.

The notion of Terrell Owens on one side and Moss on the other would certainly strike fear in the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators.

Green Bay was in the hunt for Moss when the Patriots traded for him last spring, and Packers quarterback Brett Favre was unhappy his team didn’t make a more aggressive play for him.

The Colts have one of, if not the best, quarterbacks in football in Peyton Manning and a marquee rivalry with the Patriots.

For the most part, however, Indianapolis has built its team around the draft and not free agency.

But that doesn’t mean the Colts won’t make a play for Moss. As evidenced by Manning’s new look -- a mustache and goatee -- people change.