By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 11, 2006

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If someday Deion Branch does become the all-time leading pass catcher in Super Bowl history, it will be with another team.

In the end, you might say that everyone got what they wanted. Branch gets his exit visa from Foxborough, his money ($39 million), his security (six years), and his chance to once again step on a football field. Bill Belichick gets two picks in the first round next year, and another chance to lay down the law and reinforce what is The Patriot Way. Mike Holmgren gets a good wideout who becomes an immediate salary cap problem. Jason Chayut gets his ten percent.

Unfortunately, "they" may not include the team Branch leaves behind. Belichick is fully prepared to move on without Branch. This was still another situation where the Patriots desperately had to assert themselves to keep salaries down and to keep wins up. But whether this turns out to be a case of both salary and wins going down remains to be seen.

The Patriots are fortunate to have someone as smart as Belichick to pull off the most exotic of personnel dipsy-dos. In this case, you are not only dealing with the loss of one of the more dynamic, if not consistently productive, receivers in team history (to wit: while Branch did well in Super Bowls, you can easily say that Irving Fryar, Stanley Morgan and Troy Brown were more productive Patriot receivers than Branch), but you are also dealing with a paper-thin wide receiver corps which Branch leaves behind. Injuries are part of the reason why the corps is thin, but even when all they all finally heal up, it will be a group with a lot to prove.

For starters, Chad Jackson and Doug Gabriel need to get out on the field. If Bill Parcells were still the head coach of the Patriots, Jackson would be getting his locker colored pink and would find perfume, mascara and various feminine hygiene products in his locker (would that make Jackson's sore hammy heal quicker?). Gabriel is still too new to really assess what the Patriots have. When these guys are ready to play, then you can begin to really gauge what Branch's departure means to the Patriots.

Many folks, yours truly included, are looking for a huge year from tight end Ben Watson. With wide receiver speed to go along with tight end size, he looks to be a great Branch neutralizer. But Tom Brady only completed three passes to Watson in Sunday's win over the Bills. Brady perhaps did not have the time to find Watson given that the pass blocking was rather subpar all game long. But Watson absolutely must live up to his vast potential if the Patriots are going to contend for the Super Bowl this year.

If Brady has Watson, Jackson, Gabriel, Brown and Reche Caldwell to throw to, with an occasional Bam Childress thrown in here and there, this should be enough to prevent defenses from overloading on the run. It's not Branch and Givens, but to be able to keep both of them on the team with the salaries their new teams paid them makes bad financial sense for the Patriots.

Discussing the fallout from Branch is moot if the line doesn't block better than it did on Sunday. Brady took responsibility for the missed blocking call on the first play of the game (where Takeo Spikes came in and caused the fumble which led to the opening touchdown). Matt Light had problems with Eric Schobel all game long. The road grading went well, as the rushing numbers bear out. But Brady needs more time to throw, and needs to feel more comfortable in the pocket.

Meanwhile, whither Mr. Branch, now on his way to perhaps the best team in the other conference?

On his way out of town, he did speak with Ron Borges of the Globe. Some of what he said, you've heard similar rants before.

""I felt a lot of happiness and a little sadness,'' Branch told Borges. ""I feel good about my situation but sad about leaving my teammates. I understand the situation. The organization had to do what it felt was best for the team and I had to do what was best for me and my family. I have three kids. I'm the one who has to take care of them. The Patriots aren't going to take care of them. Nobody is going to take care of them but me.''

So basically, Branch called Ty Law before talking to Borges. Gotta feed my family. That's okay, until later on when Branch unloaded this rambling morsel.

"To hold out against an organization like the Patriots, it can't just be about money," Branch went on to say. "Money's always involved because this is a business. They let you know that from the first day you come into the NFL. But to go through this and stay strong, money can't be your main purpose.''

In the words of Colonel Henry Potter (M*A*S*H), this is just plain horse feathers. He would have been better off to just leave it at feeding his three kids. One of these days, an athlete ought to just come out and admit that it really was all about the money. This whole thing began with the Patriots making a decent offer (which was not that far off from what Seattle offered, the major difference being three years instead of six) that Branch and Chayut rejected as not rich enough for their liking. Branch wanted top receiver money even though his career stats did not warrant such a contract. To suggest that "money can't be your main purpose" insults everyone's intelligence.

Branch could have made things very simple and said that he merely wanted more money like Damien Woody, Givens, Ted Washington, Adam Vinatieri, and all the others who decided that more money was more important than more Vinces. This is all that this is about, nothing more or less. For Seattle to realize a proper return on this sort of investment, Branch literally has to become the Shawn Alexander of his position. How poetically justified it would be if Branch turns out to be inferior to Darrell Jackson or Bobby Engram, which is entirely possible.

By dangling him out there to seek a trade, and by finally extracting a first-round pick from Seattle, the Patriots were able to both dodge those grievance hearings and get something decent for Branch. That first-round pick settles this whole mess in favor of the Patriots, in that they get a building block for the future and unloaded a player who no longer fit the team concept. The Patriots could have used Branch, yes, but with a Troy Brown mentality instead.

And the Patriots were smart to get out of those hearings. Even though legal experts had the Patriots winning in a slamdunk, other folks who know about these things opined that arbitrators and special masters can sometimes produce results that you would never expect. The last thing the Patriots would have needed was to have an arbitrator hand down some unappealable decision which would have been less than a first round draft pick (a special master decision can be appealed in federal court), and the arbitrator Branch and Chayut picked, Fordham law professor John Feerick, did indeed retain jurisdiction in this case. By getting the first round pick and settling this mess, the Patriots scored a touchdown.

So, Branch flies with Seahawks for the next six years. His team might just fly to Miami in February for another shot at a Vince.

If it's the Patriots he has to go against, imagine him getting ten or more catches against a Belichick defense, if you can.


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