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Play call looks to be pass

Unhappy Branch may skip camp

Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch is in the final year of his five-year contract with the team.
Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch is in the final year of his five-year contract with the team. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

Two sources close to Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said the team's top wide receiver will not report to the mandatory minicamp that begins this morning at Gillette Stadium.

Branch, who is in the final year of a five-year contract, hopes to sign a lucrative extension before the season and is dissatisfied with the status of talks.

Efforts to reach Branch, who one source said is not in the New England area this week, were unsuccessful, and his agent, Jason Chayut, would not comment on the situation.

``I think everyone's been through it," quarterback Tom Brady said yesterday at the team's charity golf tournament at Belmont Country Club. ``Hopefully it gets worked out. I sure hope it will.

``Deion is such a wonderful guy. He's a wonderful guy to have around. I know we all miss having him around. We all communicate with him -- all the receivers, all the quarterbacks."

A year ago, defensive lineman Richard Seymour also skipped the mandatory minicamp, as he and the team talked about a new deal. Eventually, Seymour held out of training camp before receiving a bump in pay for the 2005 season, and a $30 million extension that he signed in April.

``Deion's a heck of a player," Seymour said. ``I can't really speak on his situation; I can only speak on my situation. We like Deion. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player and we'd love to have him.

``Deion's a guy -- a Super Bowl MVP -- that's been making big plays for us ever since he's been here. So of course we'd love to have him on this football team. Hopefully, everything will work out for him."

A number of NFL receivers have signed new contracts recently, including Indianapolis's No. 2 wideout, Reggie Wayne (six years, $39 million), and two players drafted before Branch in 2002: Denver's Javon Walker (five years, $40 million) and Washington's Antwaan Randle El (seven years, $31 million).

Wayne has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the Colts' high-powered offense. He had a big season in 2004 but played in only one game last year before being sidelined by a knee injury. Randle El, who helped the Steelers to a Super Bowl title last season, has never had more than 47 receptions in a season.

Branch is coming off his best season (78 receptions for 998 yards). A second-round pick out of Louisville, Branch has been a relative bargain for the Patriots the past two seasons. After picking up a $1 million signing bonus as a rookie, he has earned about that total in salary the past three seasons, and will get just over that for this season thanks to an escalator clause that almost doubled his salary.

Branch, who turns 27 next month, has clearly developed into Brady's favorite target.

Brady said he isn't concerned about Branch missing practice time at this point, even noting that after Branch missed nine games with a knee injury in 2004, he returned to lead the team with six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown in a win at Kansas City.

``I think it's important to be here, but at the same time, he's working out and ready to go," Brady said. ``If there's one guy who can just step on the field and play, it's him.

``He's probably our best player on offense."

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