Why Deion Branch is more likely now

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Who’d have thought back in 2007 that just two years later, wide receiver would be a major need for the Patriots?

Well, now it is. The 2010 season is a contract year for Randy Moss. Wes Welker has a long road back from his knee reconstruction, whenever that surgery takes place. Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth are, of course, long gone.

And while Julian Edelman flashed potential, and the possibility exists that Brandon Tate emerges after coming back from another knee injury, it’s pretty clear that this spot needs to be addressed. Rewind back to when Joey Galloway was having trouble getting a game uniform in the fall, and you might remember how Deion Branch’s name was floated.

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I believe his return is more of a probability now than it ever was before. For a few reasons:

1) Money: Branch is due base salaries of $5.47 million this year and $5.95 million next year, after making $4.94 million last year as part of the six-year, $39 million pact he inked in 2006. Previously, the Seahawks had to worry about dead money — from a $7 million signing bonus and $6 million option bonus paid in 2007 — weighing down their cap. Now, with an uncapped environment looming, they can simply cut ties.

2) Management: With departure of Mike Holmgren in 2008 and GM Tim Ruskell last month, the Seahawks no longer have the decision-makers in place that made the trade for Branch. When the idea that Branch could be traded here for a low-round draft pick was floated in midseason, that was one overlooked part — how bad would Ruskell look if he dealt Branch back to his original team for a fraction of the price he gave up to get him? Pete Carroll and Co. don’t have to worry about such things, nor do must they be concerned with the investment made in Branch if they decide to release him, because the new guys have no investment in him.


3) The Welker Factor: Replacing the All-Pro’s skills will be difficult enough, if Welker is to miss time in 2010. Losing someone Tom Brady can trust above anyone else makes it even tougher. So how could the Patriots possibly replace that relationship, even if it only needs to be temporary? Well, Branch always had a great rapport with Brady, so much so that when the trade was consummated, the Patriots quarterback sent Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck a text message saying something along the lines of “You’re gonna love him.” So it stands to reason that Brady would love to have Branch back, and that it might not be too difficult for the two to restore their old on-field chemistry.

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4) The Market: Branch has had 177 catches in his four years in Seattle, and has missed 17 games due to injury. He’s 30 years old. He’s got a lot of miles on his 5-foot-9-inch, 192-pound frame. That’s not to say he cannot play. But it is to say that he’ll have less value on the open market — should he make it there — to teams that do not have history with him. Cleveland would be a possible landing spot, with Holmgren, the Browns president, and coach Eric Mangini having history with him. Denver or Kansas City could be, too. But the competition doesn’t figure to be that fierce for him.

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Of course, the aforementioned health problems are the risk here. And it certainly stands to reason that the Patriots might have to be careful here, given Branch’s own comments.

“You will never be back to normal once you have this type of procedure
done. I actually feel stronger, but it’s not normal,” Branch said last year. “Something has been done that removed [parts] of
my knee. My biggest thing is to continue to strengthen it.”

So all this says that, no, he probably can’t be the same guy who won the Super Bowl XXXIX  MVP.

But this is a guy who can play all over the formation (and did for the Patriots), and can seamlessly re-enter your offense. He’s also someone your quarterback can trust. He’s smart, and he’s everything the old Patriots were about.

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Maybe he can’t be the 83 (well, he can’t be 83 at all, really) you remember. But can he replace what the offense lost in Jabar Gaffney? Or fill in capably for a rehabbing Welker?

Why not?