September 11, 2006
Sorting Out The Branch Trade
BY: Kevin Rousseau
You’re angry right now, aren’t you?
Like me, you’re not quite sure just who to direct your ire towards. One side of your brain is peeved at the stubborn Patriots management. How could they take away Tom Brady’s only realistic deep threat for the season? Maybe if they were a little more flexible on their offer, Branch would be stutter-stepping into the end zone this coming Sunday versus the Jets.
The other side of your brain is irate at Branch and his agent, Jason Chayut. “If you signed a contract, well then honor it Deion,” you said to yourself last week as you got up at 5 a.m. for another day at your own job. And how could Branch walk away from catching passes from the greatest quarterback of his generation?
The fact that you and I are feeling hurt, resentment and anger is the exact reason that we do not make a living doing NFL player evaluation. We are just too wrapped up emotionally to our team and its players. When I think of Deion Branch, I’ll remember him waving goodbye to the Steelers secondary in the 2005 AFC Championship game and the way that he saved his best performances for his two Super Bowl appearances.
This personnel stuff is a heartless job and the Patriots have proven to be the best at it over the last five years. I can remember sitting right at this keyboard a few years ago and writing a rip job on Bill Belichick for his “arrogant” releasing of safety Lawyer Milloy on the eve of the 2003 season. In essence, I felt Belichick was writing off the season to make a point with a player. But the last time I checked, the Vince Lombardi trophy from that season still resides at One Patriot Place. Shows you how much I knew. (Note: This is the point in the column when Revisionist History majors will say “I was happy they let Milloy go at the time.”).
With the exception of Ty Law, Jermaine Wiggins (140 receptions the last two seasons!) and Greg Spires, when the Belichick-lead Patriots have let a player go via the waiver wire or free agency they were usually proven correct. Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy and David Patten immediately come to mind. Oh, don’t forget Damian Woody, Joe Andruzzi or Bethel Johnson.
Time will tell whether the decision by the Patriots will be a good one. In the meantime, let’s weigh some pros and cons of this whole mess:
On the plus side, the Patriots did receive an additional 2007 first-round pick from Seattle for Branch. Crazier things have happened than having the pick turn into a top 15 spot after a Seahawk collapse this season. History has also shown that the Belichick regime is excellent at picking up immediate contributors in the first round (Maroney, Mankins, Wilfork, Watson, Warren, Graham and some guy named Seymour).
Also, Branch has never had a 1,000-yard season. In fairness to Branch on this point, however, Tom Brady likes to spread the ball around so much that he would throw it to the hot dog vendor if he was open. Is Branch one of the top 10 receivers in the NFL? No. But what about one of the top 20? Perhaps in the right system he is.
The last point on the “pro” side is that his holdout is no longer a distraction or an excuse for underperformance for Belichick’s team. The team must really like the recently-acquired Doug Gabriel and/or rookie Chad Jackson in order to let Branch walk. After sitting through Sunday’s roll-your-eyes passing display, I got to believe this is the case.
The “con” side is just as long but among the many obvious points is the fact that Chayut served his client perfectly. His brinksmanship strategy worked and was rewarded. Holding out against the Patriots will get results is the lesson for frustrated Patriot players. Fans are also annoyed that the team has approximately $14 million in free cap space but refused to spend it based on the stubborn principle of not overpaying for a player no matter the circumstance.
Is this columnist hedging yet again? Guilty as charged, I’m afraid. Until proven otherwise-it could be sooner rather than later-Belichick and Scott Pioli still enjoy a free pass. How could they not?
If the bottom starts to finally fall out, well then the knives will start to come out in classic Bostonian fashion. The arrogance will be panned and Patriot front office personnel will be shopping area stores for gorilla costumes to escape the wrath of the media and the fans. You and I don’t feel that type of pressure in our job.
Let’s hope the good times-and the good personnel decisions-for the Patriots haven’t faded away like my television career.
Pass the clippers. I have a hedge to trim.
Idle Zinger thoughts while wishing that Duran Duran would get the credit they deserve for the impact they had on society:
Fun NFL Name of the Week: The Green Bay Packers have Ty Knott on their staff as an “offensive quality control.”
I heard the first reference to it the other day. Its overuse annually makes me become nauseas by Columbus Day. Of course, I’m talking about pundits and fans referring to quarterbacks as “game managers.”
News item from Profootballtalk.com: “The Detroit Lions plan to suspend defensive line coach Joe Cullen for one game. Cullen recently was arrested twice in two weeks. Once for driving drunk. Once for driving naked. Apparently, he was clothed while drunk. Sober while naked.” Then again, clothed and sober assistant coaches haven’t worked out so well for the Lions over the last fifty years, so why not try a new approach?
Overheard Sunday in a upper deck men’s room line, a growingly inpatient Gillette Stadium patron saying “Geez, I think I got in line behind a camel.”
I did a double take but there it was a few minutes later. A guy was wearing a blue Michael Bishop game jersey.
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