By: Ian Logue/
July 28, 2006

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FOXBORO, MA -- It appears that the contract dispute between wide receiver Deion Branch and the Patriots will remain at a stalemate after the receiver sat out the first day of training camp on Friday.

According to the Providence Journal the issue now is over whether or not the Patriots will decide to put the franchise tag on Branch should he decide to play out the season and try to test the free agent market after this year. The veteran receiver is in the final year of his five-year rookie contract and missed the first day of practice, which reportedly cost him $14,000.

He's now apparently willing to return to the field, providing the team will set him free after this season.

His agent, Jason Chayut, told the newspaper, "If (the Patriots) came to me and said, 'Jason, we won't franchise Deion,' I would talk with them every day of the season in good faith to get a long-term deal done."

But should the Patriots elect to agree to that request, it would take away the leverage they have in negotiating. Logic would say that Chayut and his client are not going to get the answer they're looking for, which leaves them currently in a deadlock until they find common ground.

The team has reportedly offered him a 4-year deal that is worth an average of just under $6 million per season, but Chayut feels his client is worth closer to $7 million. The bad news for Branch is that sitting out could also cost him up to $510,000 (more than his reported $500,000 base salary for this season) should he not report until September 1st.

The longer he holds out will also disrupt the continuity in an offense that is already short at the receiver position. The team still has Troy Brown, but Branch is obviously the key to this passing offense. The former Super Bowl MVP is a target that quarterback Tom Brady will need, especially with the loss of David Givens to free agency this offseason. During both practice sessions on Friday it was Reche Caldwell and John Stone who reportedly saw the majority of action, a prospect that even made Brady a little nervous.

"When I walked out and saw No. 87 [Caldwell], I flinched a little," Brady told reporters on Friday. "But there's a new guy in that spot, and Reche can take advantage of that opportunity."

While Caldwell had his moments in the early session, he struggled during the second one, with receivers coach Brian Daboll not throwing him a ball during a drill because Caldwell failed to run the proper route. He also dropped several passes.

Tom Brady told reporters on Friday that he has talked to Branch, but all he can do now is just hope things get worked out and that the receiver is back at practice soon.

"I've talked to him," Brady said. "He's one of the favorite guys I have on the team so I hope he gets here soon. It's not up to me. I wish it was."

Needless to say the focus for now will likely remain with the two sides trying to come to an amicable agreement to get Branch back on the field. But for now it certainly will be hard to put a timetable on a negotation that seems to be going nowhere.

"I don't know when that's going to happen," Chayut told the Boston Globe. "He recognizes, from his perspective, they're not doing right by him and he's disappointed with the team."

"He just wants to be treated fairly."