March 14, 2006
Givens Gone, Now What To Do About Branch
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2005 New England Patriots. Today: receivers.
There are some players for which the system works only for so long.
When you consider the humble beginnings for David Givens, it is fascinating given what happened on Tuesday. There aren’t very many seventh round draft picks out there who become A-list out there on the free agent market. Givens’ ship came in, and how it came in is quite remarkable, if somewhat troubling to Patriot fans.
Time will tell whether or not the Patriot Way, being hailed today as the corporate model for all the NFL to follow, is the right way to do things, or instead merely the right now way to do things. Someone like Givens isn’t supposed to command such attention on the free agent market. Someone like Givens is supposed to be grateful for the opportunity the Patriots gave him to play in the first place, as well as for being on two Super Bowl winners, and to plan on being a Patriot lifer because it simply is the right thing to do.
Instead, Givens becomes the latest Damien Woody. Givens signed a contract with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday, ending his four-year career with the Patriots. He inked a five-year deal worth $24 million, along with an $8 million signing bonus. Givens will join Drew Bennett in forming a nice tandem for the Titans.
Givens signed this deal because, according to a report in the Tennessean, the former Patriot said that “In New England, I felt at times I wasn't utilized to my full potential. I feel like I'd have a great chance here.” He went on to say that “being a 1 is important to me. I want to be utilized to my full potential and from speaking to Coach Fisher and other coaches they seem very high about going out there and putting the ball in the playmaker's hands without any hesitation.”
Is Givens a 1? Certainly not with the Patriots. But anywhere? That remains to be seen.
Givens had a horrid rookie year with the Patriots. In the season finale against Miami at home, he dropped certain touchdown passes, and the broadcasters were all over it, saying “In the NFL, you have to make catches like that or you won’t stay!” Givens hit the jugs machine in the offseason and has been a force ever since.
But a number one? He lacks the breakaway speed, for one thing. Givens is a possession receiver who can make tough catches and gain tough yards. He is a first down machine. But he is not a number one wideout. Jeff Fisher probably knows this deep in his heart, and will figure out the right way to use Givens much the same way Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis did.
This may come off as being “no big deal” that Givens has left the Patriots. Such is not the case. Givens’ departure leaves a huge void in the Patriot receiving corps, and leaves one wondering what will become of Deion Branch when his contract comes due a year from now. Even though Givens’ exit was pretty much expected, the Patriots have some maneuvering to do.
Branch was somewhat of a disappointment in 2005. This writer predicted that if Branch stayed healthy in 2005, he would be an All-Pro. Branch did play in all 16 games for the first time in his career, and did set personal highs in catches and yards. But he fell two yards short of 1,000 receiving yards for the season, as much a benchmark for wideouts as it is for running backs. His average per catch was the second lowest of his career (12.8). While Branch wasn’t expected to run up Steve Smith or Santana Moss numbers, bigger things were expected of the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.
Replacing Givens may be harder than locking up Branch long term. The Patriots will be expected to deliver a little better contract offer for Branch now that Givens is gone and won’t be setting any market for Branch. But Branch will need someone opposite him to take the pressure off him, and currently the Patriots have very slim pickings, such that wide receiver may come up on day one of draft day.
Tim Dwight may wind up elsewhere, though he could remain a Patriot for the short haul. Troy Brown is bunkered down with his family, contemplating retirement. Andre Davis left to sign with Buffalo. Bethel Johnson was injured for much of 2005, and has still not shaken off his “manchild” label enough to emerge as a viable replacement for Givens.
The other top two free agents of the offseason at wideout are off the board. Antwaan Randle El signed with Washington, while Antonio Bryant signed with San Francisco. The Browns also snagged Joe Jurevicius, who himself was a target of the Patriots. The rest of free agent pool is not worthy of being a bona fide replacement for Givens.
If Kevin Faulk can recover from his 2005 injuries, he will help the receiver corps greatly. One of his strengths, in addition to being a third down back, is his ability to run the screen pass to perfection. Faulk remains one of the more effective receiving running backs in the league.
Tight end remains a strength for the Patriots, at least for now. Christian Fauria has left for Washington, but the Patriots still have young bucks Ben Watson and Daniel Graham in the fold. Graham will be a contract problem next year, but both men form a formidable tandem at tight end, with Graham the better blocker and Watson the better receiver. Watson, who has wideout speed, would help negate the loss of Givens somewhat, but he needs to step up and become the offensive force everyone predicts he will be.
The Patriots might just sit and wait to see if someone falls from the tree (Buffalo’s Eric Moulds or Dallas’ Keyshawn Johnson are some such names who either have been or will be released down the line) rather than to try and find the solution from the draft. The Patriots have been completely silent in the major free agent shopping junket thus far, which again goes to the corporate frugality concept. But the Patriots do need to come up with someone to line up opposite Branch at some point, if nothing else to prevent defenses from double-teaming Branch all season long.
Meanwhile, Givens is now off to the land of Al Gore to see if he can become the number one receiver he thinks he can be. He will take with him some fond memories of championships and doting fans, but he is a player who simply did not want any part of the Patriot Way anymore. Givens will approach his new job with enthusiasm, but he may be embarking on an impossible journey, that of becoming something he may not be able to become.
Get over it, everyone. If they want bucks more than they want bling, let them simply be gone.
Next installment: offensive line.
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