“I’m very happy in Seattle — Put that on the front page of everything,” Branch said, calling from the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program at the Wharton School at UPenn. “I don’t want people to get it misconstrued. I have a contract. I’m a loyal football player, and I’ll play my contract out. …
“I’m a Seattle Seahawk, I love being in Seattle, I have great teammates, and everything in Seattle is good.”
OK, the logistics of the matter here … Branch is due salaries of $5.47 million this year, and $5.95 million in 2011. He turns 31 in July. And the Seahawks’ new regime, headed by coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, doesn’t have the kind of investment in the trade for Branch that Tim Ruskell and Co. did.
Branch hasn’t talked with Schneider or Carroll yet, but he has spoken with new receivers coach Kippy Brown, who expressed excitement over working with him.
“Everyone’s fresh,” Branch said. “So the question is whether they want to keep the guys that Mike (Holmgren) and Tim got here, or do they go in a different direction? The only thing I’ll say is I want to be a part of (the new Seahawks). But if they decide to go in a different direction, I understand that too.”
And as for his health, Branch said he’s “100 percent” now, and that he’s capable of doing all the things he did as a Patriot. Some of his struggles to produce in Seattle have been due to those injuries he now says he’s over. Some have come for other reasons.
“When you have a special system, that’s because you have a special quarterback — That system in New England is special because of Tom Brady,” Branch said. “I’m not knocking Matt Hasselbeck. When I got to Seattle, that first year, it was good, I felt like I had a decent year, even though I only played (14) games, and learning a new system, I had no problem adjusting. But there are other variables in place as well, and that’s where the lack of production came.
“Either the front line wasn’t pairing with Matt, or Matt and I weren’t on the same page, or then, Matt was banged up. See, the thing was, in New England, everything was perfect, everything was in place.”
And really, nothing changed Branch’s feeling on that.
On the day he was traded, Branch said he fielded calls from about 12 of his Patriots teammates, all of them telling him that when Bill Belichick informed the team of the trade, six veterans stood up and walked out of the meeting room. Branch appreciated that. But he also felt like it was unnecessary.
That was because as Branch boarded the plane for Seattle, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft called him to impart this message — “We tried our best, you tried your best” — and Branch told them he appreciated what they’d done for him. “Right there,” Branch said, the hatchet “was buried.”
“Looking back, I wish all that hadn’t happened, I really wish we could’ve sat down and come to an agreement on a contract,” Branch said. “Who knows how many Super Bowls we could’ve won? There were so many great players that have left since I left. I wish we’d sat down and got to the nitty gritty, and hashed it out. But that’s the business side, and that stuff happens.”
Branch said he’s stayed in touch with Brady, Kevin Faulk, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, and ex-Patriots like Troy Brown, Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi, and still talks affectionately about the “brotherhood” they share.
But he’s also turned the page. So if Branch were available, and the Patriots made another run at him …
“I would weigh that,” Branch said. “I’m not gonna lie, Bill, he’d have the advantage on a lot of teams. I started there, I’m associated with them so much, that’s the place I was drafted at, and we’ve done so much together. And the greatest quarterback is still in New England. But, yeah, man — 2012.”
That’s when Branch’s contract expires. And so Deion again makes his point: The Seahawks start their offseason program on March 15, and Branch expects to be there.