No Branching from this topic
FOXBOROUGH Another week, another bunch of questions on holdout wide receiver Deion Branch. As of Monday afternoon, the sides still werent talking regarding a contract extension.
The Patriots are in action again on Saturday night when the Arizona Cardinals come to town (8 p.m.). The game will be broadcast by the NFL Network, with Spero Dedes on play-by-play and former Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe the color commentator. Some fans previously e-mailed this mailbag, curious if they would be shut out from watching the game if they didnt have NFL Network. Those in the Boston area can watch on Channel 5.
Another topic on the mind of some e-mailers is the Patriots lack of depth at linebacker, and possible solutions. Others are concerned about the backup quarterback spot after watching Matt Cassel on Friday night in Atlanta.
Thought Id pass along one final nugget from that game against the Falcons. Im always interested in the post-game handshakes and on Friday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed to seek out two Falcons players after the game center/guard Brian Ferentz and safety Lawyer Milloy.
Ferentz is the son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, one of Belichicks close friends and a former assistant under Belichick with the Browns (1991-95). The 6-foot-3, 282-pound Ferentz, who played under his father in college at Iowa, is a longshot to make the Falcons roster as a rookie free agent.
Milloy, of course, played for the Patriots from 1996-2002. His exit from New England was something Belichick called one of the toughest decisions hes ever had to make. The two spoke around midfield for a few moments after the game, and as I saw that through a pair of binoculars, my first thought was that time has probably healed that deep wound for Milloy. He seemed to appreciate the brief conversation.
Now on to the questions.
What is the status of Deion Branch? When will the Pats realize they need this guy on the field?
A: As of Monday afternoon, the sides still were not in an open dialogue regarding an extension for Branch. Id be surprised if anyone within the Patriots organization felt the team was better without Branch, but its not that easy. Every negotiation is a two-way street. I think the Patriots need to up their price a bit, the Branch camp needs to lower its price a bit, and one side needs to take the first step to spark talks. Until that happens, nothing is going to change.
I read that Deion Branch's agent indicated "Deion would show up if they guarantee not to put the franchise tag on him next year". I thought the franchise tag comes with compensation equal to the average of the top 5 salaries at the position which would seem unrealistic for a guy that might be considered somewhere around the 20th best wide receiver in football. I would assume that the franchise tag would be about $7-8 million next year. I do not see Pioli and Belichick putting the franchise tag on Branch. Please advise on the potential for franchise tagging Branch or is the agent blowing smoke?
A: You are correct on the franchise tag, Dan, and the figure for receivers in 2006 was $6.1 million. Whether the Patriots would put the tag on Branch or not is hard to project, but I think the agent is smart to try to take that trump card away from the Patriots. Any time you potentially can strengthen your own negotiating position, I think thats a good thing. Thats a big trump card, too, because its the one definitive thing that stands in the way of Branch hitting the open market next year. A player generally doesnt want to have the franchise tag because the salary isnt guaranteed, as a signing bonus would be.
Is it feasible/desirable to trade Deion Branch?
Erik, New York, New York
A: I dont think the Patriots would trade Branch. One area to consider in this regard from a management perspective is the precedent that sets -- a player can hold out and write his ticket out of town. And in the end, I believe they want to keep him more than trade him anyway.
I just heard that Branch declined a three-year extension worth just shy of $20 million. What does he want? At what point will he realize he's not going to get it and to just show up to camp, do his time for the next year, and then find some other team willing to give the cash he expects? I have a real problem with someone who tries to renegotiate a contract they have already signed.
Brian Finkle Fredricksburg, Virginia
A: My impression is that Branch is looking for Reggie Wayne money, which Id define primarily as a $13.5 million signing bonus. The Patriots initial offer included $8 million in bonuses (split between a $4 million signing bonus and a $4 million option bonus). My feeling is that if that number comes up to $11-12 million, and more of the money is in the form of a signing/roster bonus, the deal is done. If Branch doesnt receive an offer hes happy with, hed come back to the team in Week 10 to receive credit for the season with the hopes of becoming an unrestricted free agent.
As I understand it, the Patriots offered a three-year extension just shy of $20 million. But, the extension would go into effect at the end of the current contract, rather than replace the final year.
If that is the case, it can't consume too much cap space -- his base salary would be the same. And if that's the case, what could the thinking be behind such an approach, with such an enormous overhang of unused cap space? What are the benefits of going into the year with $10mm in available space?
Steve Hagget, Winchester
A: The Patriots can do a lot with the cap space, such as pay Richard Seymours $6.6 million option bonus as a roster bonus, and work toward extensions with cornerback Asante Samuel, center Dan Koppen and tight end Daniel Graham, all of whom are in the final years of their contracts. One other thing to consider is that the initial offer to Branch was made in May, a time when the Patriots probably wanted to maintain more salary cap flexibility. Given the time that has passed, it would be easy to tweak the offer and turn any signing bonus into a roster bonus, which would be absorbed entirely on this years cap and lessen the cap hits in future years. There are quite a few possibilities, and I believe that cap space will be used up by the end of the year. I think the team views the flexibility as an asset at this time.
What is Deion Branch's cumulative fine amount now?
Jon Cook, Arlington, Virginia
A: On Monday, I computed it as $266,000 if the Patriots choose to take that course of action.
Considering his tepid performance in the first preseason game, what do you see from Matt Cassel that gives you confidence in his ability to step up if the unthinkable happens to Brady? And if you dont see anything, what is the likelihood that a veteran will be signed?
Adam, Southport Island
A: Cassel didnt play well on Friday night, but I think he deserves a few more games before making a final judgment. I remember the 2005 season-finale against the Dolphins and saw things in that game that were promising. If Cassel plays like he did on Friday throughout the rest of the preseason, Id expect a veteran addition.
I thought that certain people ripping Reche Caldwell was unfair. Brady's pass at the goal line was a step too late and too far out in front, making it impossible for Caldwell to shield the ball from the cornerback with his body. I've seen Branch drop the identical ball quite a few times, as any receiver would. Your opinion on the play?
John Morgenstern, Gilford, New Hampshire
A: After watching the play a few times the last few days, I thought Caldwell should have caught the pass. There was actually more space in the passing lane than I initially thought there was.
Mike, We got to hear Adam Vinatieri speak out last week about what really transpired last year with regards to his free agency. I guess I'm curious to hear your take on it. Did the Patriots feel all along that that he would come back to them to match or at least counter-offer the Colts? Or had they made up their minds to let him walk? The organization seems a little miffed by the whole deal.
Mike Francour, Revere
A: My feeling is that the Patriots were surprised at the turn of events, and probably werent fully aware of the way Vinatieri felt about his situation. I dont think they wanted to lose Vinatieri. In the end, I think the team should have been more aggressive with him, locking him up for the long-term long before he hit unrestricted free agency (assuming there was a two-way dialogue in any talks that took place).
I haven't heard much during training camp about Tebucky Jones. Does he have anything left in the tank and do you see him playing a big role this year?
Wayne Klein, Hartford, CT
A: Jones projects as a backup safety, a core special teams player, and a member of the teams goal-line defense. When Mel Mitchell suffered a season-ending injury in early August, Jones assumed a lot of Mitchells special teams responsibilities. I think he makes the club, mostly as a special teams guy. Here is Bill Belichick commenting on Jones from Monday, Aug. 14: Tebucky is Tebucky. He is pretty much the same guy every day. He really is. He is consistent. He works hard, always well-prepared, a tough, physical player. He likes contact. He likes football. Hes very dependable. Hes one of the most consistent players. You always know where you're going to get from Tebucky and I'm saying that in a positive way. You know what it's going to be. You can count on him.
With Deion Branch still holding out, Reche Caldwell looking like a dud, and Chad Jackson being injured for most of training camp, how about this solution: Make Ben Watson the speed receiver and make Kevin Faulk the possession receiver. The three tight ends will be Daniel Graham, Dave Thomas, and Garrett Mills, who looked impressive in the Falcons pre-season game. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney will share the bulk of the running plays, with Patrick Cobbs (who also looked good during the Falcons game) taking over Faulk's role as the third-down back. Watson would be a nightmare to cover for opposing cornerbacks.
Bob K., Cambridge
A: In theory, part of this plan sounds like it could work. But my feeling is that you still need a top-notch receiver on the outside to keep defenses honest. Simply because Watson has wide receiver speed doesnt mean he could easily transition to that position. And while Faulk is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, thats a big difference than lining him up wide 10-15 times per game, week in and week out. I see it as a stop-gap type of plan -- one that shows how many options the team has on offense and less of a long-term solution.
With problems continuing at inside linebacker and Jeremy Mincey and Pierre Woods making progress so far on the outside, what are the chances of a Vrabel return to the middle again in '06?
Pete Clark, England
A: Vrabel was working on the inside a bit during Mondays practice. That put Tully Banta-Cain into the mix at outside linebacker. Here is a piece from Tuesdays Boston Globe with a bit more detail on that.
Do you think the Pats should give Ted Johnson a call? They just plain don't have any inside linebackers. Monty Beisel is a big disappointment. So is Barry Gardner. Is any team out there overstocked at LB? Maybe the Pats could do a trade? If nothing else, they need to head to the 4-3 defense with Bruschi in the middle.
Ron Freeman, Buellton, CA
A: Even if Johnson did return, Ron, I think it would take him a while to get back into game shape. I dont see that as a top option right now. I concur that Beisel has been a disappointment in this camp he didnt play well in Fridays preseason opener. Gardner, who arrived with lower expectations (no signing bonus), has been better than Beisel but still not great. As for the trade possibilities, any available player of quality would require the Patriots giving up some quality in return, which would essentially create another hole on the roster. Thats why a free-agent signing is more likely, with names like Chris Claiborne, Orlando Ruff and Jamie Sharper possibilities. All have been in for workouts.
Watching the game it appeared Beisel was a non-factor. I'd think after a year now in the system he'd be more effective, although I realize its only the first pre-season game. Also, whats up with Marquise Hill? The team has shown extraordinary patience with him. To be honest I can't remember ever seeing him on the field. Can we check and see if he's related to Pervis Ellison?
A: Beisel played poorly in Fridays preseason opener, and Id say hes been regressing since the start of camp. As for Hill, hes been sidelined with an ankle injury sustained on the first weekend of camp. I think part of the teams patience with him is tied to age he just turned 24 this month and came out of LSU early. Finding athletic, strong 6-foot-6, 300-pound players isnt easy, and Hill can potentially be that. I still think he makes the club, because the team wont want to give up on him yet.
Is there any chance with the Pats receiving corps being as thin as it is, that the Pats might go after Ashley Lelie? Talk about a boost at WR.
Inel Taggart, Lynn
A: I dont think the team has any interest in Lelie.
Hey Mike, Every year it seems like the team brings in these unknown guys who just turn out be solid contributors. Guys like Mike Vrabel, Logan Mankins, and David Givens. Based on what you have seen in training camp and what you saw on the field against the Falcons, who do you think is poised to be the next person on this list?
Jason Saraceno, Wilmington, NC
A: Last week, in a chat on Boston.com, I said rookie inside linebacker Freddie Roach was one player to keep an eye on. But right now, Id have to change that to rookie outside linebacker Pierre Woods, who played at Michigan. He has good physical size and strength and impressed me on Friday night in Atlanta by overpowering 10-year NFL fullback Fred McCrary on a rush off the right side. Also keep an eye on rookie offensive tackle Ryan OCallaghan, a fifth-round pick from California who ran with the first team in Mondays practice. And seventh-round pick Willie Andrews, of Baylor, who has been all over the place on special teams.
I'm going to the game on Saturday and coming in from CT. I was wondering if you knew what time the Patriots open their gates to the tailgaters?
George Corriveau, Bristol, CT
A: Have fun at the game, George. The Patriots open their gates for tailgaters four hours before kickoff.