FOXBOROUGH -- It takes a lot to sap the breath from a 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound NFL defensive lineman, but in the absence of sheer herculean force, equal parts shock and exasperation will do.
The spirits of Patriots Pro Bowler Richard Seymour deflated faster than a punctured pigskin yesterday when he heard New England had traded holdout wide receiver Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round draft pick.
``It took the air out of me," said Seymour. ``It really did."
Seymour knows something about showdowns with the Patriots over contract issues: He missed the start of training camp last season before the team agreed to a raise on the last year of his rookie deal. That's why he was confident Branch would find common ground with New England decision-makers Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. To Seymour's dismay, that didn't happen.
``It's a tough day for a lot of the guys on this football team, especially a guy like myself, and a lot of the other guys who came in with Deion Branch," said Seymour. ``Not just what he means to us on the football field, but in the locker room as a person, and then when you also talk about what he meant to us on the football field -- a heck of a lot, a Super Bowl MVP-type guy, a Pro Bowl-caliber player -- I saw a lot of hearts broken when Coach Belichick announced that move."
Seymour, one of the few players who stayed around after team meetings, when the locker room was opened up to the media, then reverted back to Patriot-speak.
``I guess we just have to play with the guys we got," he said. ``That's all we can do."
Seymour, who along with Tom Brady might be the only Patriots who openly question management decisions, was not happy that Branch was taking his 213 career receptions, 2,744 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns to the West Coast.
``I'm happy for him to get a new contract and be back out on the field playing football," said Seymour. ``I'm happy for him in that regard. But I guess in my own selfish reasons I want him out there in a Patriot uniform.
``Obviously, I don't control that, and he doesn't to some degree, as well. It's just disappointing to say the least."
The Patriots have dealt with the untimely loss of a key player before, lest anyone forget the Lawyer Milloy affair in 2003. They released their Pro Bowl safety five days before the season opener against the Bills after he refused to agree to a lower salary cap number. New England then went out and lost to Buffalo, 31-0.
What kind of effect will Branch's departure have?
``This is that times five, times six, times 83," said Seymour, choosing Branch's uniform number to put an exclamation point on his opinion.
``The guy embodied everything we wanted or everything the coaching staff and ownership talks about wanting in a Patriot uniform. He's done that as good as anybody that put on a Patriot uniform. He was a stand-up type guy, and he's a good friend. So to not have 83 in a Patriot uniform definitely hurts."
While Seymour used the Milloy situation as a parallel, linebacker Mike Vrabel compared losing Branch to not having Tedy Bruschi in the lineup last year while he was trying to recover from a stroke: If the player is not there at the beginning of the season, you don't count on him ever being there.
``Yeah, we wish Deion were on our team, but the reality of it is he is not," said Vrabel. ``Deion, I wish him the best; he's a great player. He was awesome for us. He got the contract that he deserved. But you go on, and we have do what we normally do."
Seymour agreed, saying the Patriots can't let a depleted receiving corps serve as an excuse for poor performance on the field, regardless of anyone's personal feelings on the matter.
``I can't play receiver and Coach Belichick can't play receiver," said Seymour. ``So we're just going to have to use the guys that we have. They're just going to have to step up and take care of business."
That's something the Patriots were unable to do with Branch and his contract.
``Business is business," said Seymour. ``Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I don't see that we won today."