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Patriots trade Branch to Seahawks and file tampering charge against Jets

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- The Patriots traded receiver Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks for a 2007 first-round draft choice yesterday, and in the process filed tampering charges against the New York Jets.

The tampering charges should add fuel to a Patriots-Jets rivalry that has been reinvented in many forms over the last 10 years, from Bill Parcells leaving the Patriots for the Jets in 1997, to Bill Belichick leaving the Jets for the Patriots in 2000, to former defensive coordinator Eric Mangini leaving the Patriots to become the Jets head coach this year.

The Patriots and Jets face each other Sunday in New York's home opener.

In their tampering charge, the Patriots say that while the Jets had permission to negotiate a contract with Branch, any trade talks were to be solely between the teams. They claim that because Branch and his representatives had knowledge of what was being offered in a trade, the Patriots' negotiating position was compromised.

In addition to the tampering charges against the Jets, the Patriots intend to collect the full amount of fines that Branch totaled during his holdout, a figure that tops $600,000.

Meanwhile, Branch will sign a six-year, $39 million contract with the Seahawks, with about $23 million of that coming in the first three years. Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said Branch was appealing because he is a ``known commodity that we know fits our system."

Ruskell said the Seahawks, who beat the Lions, 9-6, Sunday, were granted a two-week roster exemption for Branch and won't have to release a player until Branch plays in a game.

In New York, Mangini spoke about the Jets' pursuit of Branch before news of the tampering charges came out.

``Deion is a player who is under contract with another NFL team, whether he's under contract with New England or Seattle, I respect that and respect that team's ability to operate and work with their players," Mangini said. ``We don't want to interrupt that. I hope everything worked out how everybody wanted it to."

Mangini said the Jets' pursuit of Branch was strictly business.

``Each night, [general manager] Mike [Tannenbaum] and I meet and we look at how we can improve the New York Jets, we do that daily," Mangini said. ``That's what we're always going to do, ask, `How can we improve this team?' That's our focus. That's what we're committed to do, and we're going to keep doing it."

While Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Branch attended parts of the team's offseason program, Branch's holdout lasted through the team's June mandatory minicamp, training camp, and the first week of the season.

``It's been a long process," said Belichick. ``I think that we tried hard to get it to work out. I think their side and Deion tried hard to make it work as well, but in the end it just didn't work."

The 27-year-old Branch was in the final year of the five-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2002. He was scheduled to earn $1.045 million this season, yet both sides seemed to agree that he was due for a raise.

However, talks on a contract extension hit a major snag in May. The Patriots offered a three-year extension at the time, with a $4 million signing bonus, $4 million option bonus, and base salaries of $1.4 million in 2007, $4.3 million in 2008, and $4.75 million in 2009.

The sides had no formal discussions after that.

Before the offer, the sides had discussions about a longer contract, but those never advanced to the point of a formal offer.

The breakthrough came Aug. 25, when the Patriots released the following statement: ``The New England Patriots have given Deion Branch permission to seek a trade and negotiate a contract with other clubs. This permission will extend until September 1, 2006."

The Seahawks and Jets made six-year contract offers that were acceptable to Branch, but a trade with New England couldn't be consummated by the Patriots' imposed deadline of Sept. 1, and Branch remained with New England.

That set off the latest round of fireworks between Branch and the Patriots, with Branch's camp filing two grievances against the club. The first stated that the Patriots received appropriate trade compensation in the form of a second-round pick, and thus should be forced to trade Branch.

The second claimed the Patriots didn't bargain in good faith. The second grievance was scheduled to be heard on Thursday and Friday.

Now the focus turns to tampering charges against the Jets.

``It's been such a long process and it kind of got complicated there at the end going through all of the things that have been talked about and represented," Belichick said.

The Patriots now have two first-round picks in 2007 -- for a draft that one NFL scout said is expected to be deep at the receiver position -- and have eliminated a potential distraction.

Branch was a second-round selection (65th overall) in 2002. He appeared in 53 games for the Patriots, with 42 starts, and totaled 213 receptions for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns. In eight playoff games, he had 41 receptions for 619 yards and two touchdowns. He was MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.

REISS'S MAILBAG: Mike Reiss answers readers' Patriots questions; go to www.boston.com/sports

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