A different shade of purple?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Ravens would likely be among a handful of teams interested in trading for Randy Moss if the Minnesota Vikings are willing to part with the often-troubled five-time Pro Bowl receiver.

There is a 60 percent chance that the Vikings will deal Moss, according to a report on ESPN.

Multiple league sources have said the Vikings are trying to gauge the market value for one of the NFL's most gifted players. Their asking price probably would be either two first-round picks or a first-round pick and a current starter.

Although the Ravens said there have been no official talks with Minnesota, a league source confirmed there has been communication between the teams. The Ravens likely would lean toward giving up one draft pick (the No. 22 overall selection this year) and a defensive starter.

One team source said linebacker Adalius Thomas would be the most expendable because he is slated to return as a backup to Peter Boulware, who missed the 2004 season with knee and toe injuries, at outside linebacker next season. It's uncertain whether Thomas would be enough to entice Minnesota.

Other teams that presumably would join the Ravens in pursuit of Moss are the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Chicago Bears.

Predicting Moss' fate is too early at this point considering NFL trades cannot be officially completed until March 2, the start of the free agency period.

Ravens officials declined to comment yesterday on Moss because talking about a player under contract with another team would violate NFL tampering rules.

The Ravens are a logical choice to be among those at the top of the list to acquire him because of need and history. Not only do the Ravens desperately want a big-play receiver, but coach Brian Billick also was the Vikings offensive coordinator during Moss' rookie season (1998).

Moss, who turns 28 next month, would fill the Ravens' long-standing void on offense.

In seven seasons, he has proved to be one of the NFL's elite playmakers, averaging 82 catches, 1,306 yards and nearly 13 touchdown catches a year. Those numbers would be jaw-dropping for the Ravens, who have finished 27th or worst in passing the past three seasons. The Ravens also were the only team not to have a player with at least 40 catches this season.

What the Ravens have to weigh is whether the production offsets the headaches. Toward the end of the season, Moss resorted to the same controversial antics that many thought he had left behind.

He angered several teammates in the final game of the regular season when he walked off the field with two seconds left in a loss at Washington. The next week in Minnesota's wild-card playoff victory at Green Bay, he pretended to pull down his pants and moon the crowd after a touchdown catch.

But the Ravens have shown in the past that they are willing to take the risk to obtain a talented yet disgruntled receiver.

In 2003, they went after David Boston but the free agent decided to go to the San Diego Chargers. Last season, they thought they had landed Terrell Owens in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers before the NFL rescinded the deal, allowing Owens to go to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Trades in the NFL are relatively rare because of salary cap implications.

But Moss' contract could be appealing for prospective teams because the Vikings already have paid the $18 million in guaranteed bonuses. A new team would be responsible for picking up the final four seasons worth $36.5 million in salary.

Another potential hurdle is the state of the Vikings franchise.

According to ESPN, Vikings owner Red McCombs is hoping to sell the team by the Super Bowl and is determining whether the franchise is worth more with Moss. If so, a new owner might want to keep Moss and block any potential deals.

If Moss is unavailable, the Ravens' offseason options at receiver will be limited.

Plaxico Burress is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Pittsburgh Steelers could keep him off the market by giving him the franchise player tag. And Muhsin Muhammad has been rumored to be a salary cap cut, but the Carolina Panthers likely would try to rework his deal before they would have to release him.

Ravens officials are high on their young group of receivers (Clarence Moore, Randy Hymes and Devard Darling) but ideally want a veteran who could produce on the field and lead off it.

"There are not too many guys out there," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said recently in assessing the number of NFL receivers who could come in and make an impact for the Ravens. "We have made a lot of attempts to get there and we have failed, but I am going right back to the plate again to try to find that guy that can bail [quarterback] Kyle Boller out of some tough situations."

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