September 01, 2006
Branch, Patriots Back To Square One
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
What did you expect, that this crazy trade thing was actually going to go through?
It went right up to the Friday deadline, a deadline imposed by the Patriots last week when they permitted Deion Branch and his agent, Jason Chayut, to seek a deal with another team within a week. Things were all quiet until Friday, when reports came out that the Jets and Seahawks made offers to Branch. The Patriots countered with unreasonable trade requests in the eyes of the Jets and the Seahawks, and as of Friday night, Branch is still a Patriot.
And now all of a sudden, it is the Patriots with egg on their faces, according to most any media outlet you read or hear from. The Patriots miscalculated Branch’s value. The Patriots come off as looking like total cheapskates once again. This can’t possibly be going over well with the fan base. Oh, and what must the Patriot players themselves be thinking about the company that puts food on their tables and shoes on their feet.
Only the last sentence is potentially true. It is possible that the Patriot players are watching this exchange between Branch and Chayut and the Patriot organization. Neither side is blinking, and it seems that both sides are digging in for a long battle of wills. But to suggest that the Patriots come out of this whole deal all worse for the wear is simply pessimistic thinking.
The sad reality is that both Branch’s camp and the Patriots are right back to where they were before all this began. To save face, Chayut has filed a grievance with the NFLPA on Branch’s behalf. Other than that, nothing has changed. The Patriots want Branch to get his posterior into camp right now on their terms. Branch is fighting to not become the next Adam Vinatieri by getting railroaded into a career of nothing but franchise tags and less money than the open market may bear.
According to ESPN.com, the Jets made Branch an offer of $36 million, while the Seahawks made an offer of $39 million (both offers were for six years). The Jets offered the Patriots a second round pick, while Seattle never made a formal trade offer. The grievance alleges that the Patriots reneged on an agreement to trade him; Chayut will argue that a fair market value deal was offered by the Jets. The grievance will also state that the Patriots have never made a fair market offer for Branch in their own right, and are not bargaining in good faith.
One is left to wonder what the Patriots did wrong, if anything, and what case does Chayut have.
You can begin by examining both “offers”, if you can really call them that. It could be said that the “offer” made by the Jets was purely artificial, an offer made by a hated division rival with the sole intent of driving up the price on Branch and driving a wedge between Branch and the team. You could say that the Jets had no real interest in acquiring Branch; in Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, Justin McCareins, and former Patriot Tim Dwight, the Jets don’t really have a flaming need for a wide receiver (if this were over, say, Corey Dillon, with Curtis Martin maybe at the end of his career, one might think differently).
Going further, in the Jet front office sits owner Woody Johnson, who must still be upset to see Bill Belichick bolt the Jets for the Patriots thanks in part to his taking control of the Jets from the previous owner, the late Leon Hess. And don’t forget the new head coach, Eric Mangini, who might want to show his old boss a thing or two about gamesmanship. The Jets had every reason to make an insincere offer to Branch, and this offer smacks more of torquing off a division rival more than anything else.
The Seahawk offer is somewhat less fishy, but not above suspicion. The Hawks offered more money, but never made a trade offer. One might ask Mike Holmgren why such an offer to the Patriots was not made. Again, did Holmgren assume that the Patriots would never make a suitable offer and that their offer to Branch was not really a heartfelt one?
Seattle has no bones to pick with the Patriots like the Jets do. Plus, with receivers like Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Peter Warrick, again, where’s the flaming need at the position? Maybe Seattle sees them returning to the Super Bowl this year, and if it’s against the Patriots, why not wound them now and get a leg up on February?
For either Terry Bradway (Jet GM) or Holmgren to believe that the Patriots would come back with a sensible offer for Branch, one could then assume that these men believe in the tooth fairy. This is further proof that these offers may not have been honest, bona fide offers, but rather ones which were designed to inflict pain and suffering on the Patriots by giving Branch offers Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli swore he would never get.
Which brings us to this grievance. Is there any basis at all to grieve this situation?
There are all sorts of problems here. Were the Patriots “mandated” to make an offer? Once the teams made these offers, could it not be that the Patriots simply considered their trade offer commensurate to the money offered? How can you ask an arbitrator to officially designate “fair market value” for Branch? How can you actually prove that the Patriots acted in “bad faith”, if that even is an issue at all?
This grievance may stop dead at the first problem. The Patriots still hold the rights to Branch and should not be held to deal him. The Patriots allowed Branch to seek a deal and move to another team if a trade could be worked out. That is a conditional situation, not a mandate. It is squarely up to the Patriots to deal him if they wish. In this case, since their price of two first round picks, however steep it may have been, was not met, they simply decided not to trade Branch.
The only way this hurts the Patriots is if players look at this when their contracts are up and decide they simply don’t want to return. You can’t franchise any more than one player at a time, so they can’t hold on to everyone. If the Patriot players look at Branch and think “Gosh, will that happen to me some day?”, they may all go Damien Woody on the Patriots and discover that big money is better than winning despite being treated literally like cattle.
Fortunately, the Patriots still have a huge core of players who deeply want to win more than they want to be rich. As long as that mentality prevails, the Patriots will be okay for the long term. As long as Belichick and Pioli remain in power, this philosophy will continue to define the Patriot Way.
But the Patriots should be careful in the future about new ventures in gamesmanship. This might not be something they want to try again. While the intent was to show up Branch, those offers made by the Jets and Seahawks, however insincere they may have been, were likely unexpected and showed the Patriots that the rest of the league doesn’t fancy their tactics in trying to stay on the cutting edge of anything football. It’s a good thing that they may emerge from this unscathed, unless Chayut and Branch get a real sympathetic master arbitrator to hear the grievance.
All this aside, things would be so much nicer if both sides would just give a little and end all this mess right now.
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