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Ask PFW Part I: Branch out

One day after New England shipped holdout wide receiver Deion Branch to the Seahawks, fans around Patriots Nation are still reacting to the trade and thinking about life passing without the former Super Bowl MVP.

Hi Guys, In regards to the Branch trade..WHY? One measly very late 1st round pick. WHY? Coach have you seen the wide receiver set lately...Buffalo did, and that's why the Pats eked out a 19-17 win. Does anybody on the PFW staff honestly believe that the Pats can stretch any defense with what they have? Granted Chad Jackson can but only God knows when he'll play. And the worst part about it is the Patriots staff let all this happen, Givens gone, Andre Davis gone, Tim Dwight gone, Branch gone. Am I missing anyone? Who's next...BRADY? I think the honeymoon is over and the marriage is starting to fall apart...which is troublesome to me. I just don't understand this trade at all.
Mark Pavkov

Now, that Bill Belichick has returned to his Cleveland form, I have a question about Tom Brady. Obviously, he was duped into taking submarket contract in the name of "taking it for the team". It does not take a "genius" to understand that he is in for miserable years ahead, because I don't anticipate the resident genius will be fired or will change any time soon. So, Tom Brady's chances of "winning more championships" with Belichick are about the same as my chances of hitting the Megabucks. And I don't play lottery. My question is - what is the status of his contract (signing bonuses, etc) after this year. Can he get out of it to go to a team that desperately wants to win but lacking a solid quarterback (Skins?). How realistic is it from contractual prospective?
Gary A.

OK..... Branch of course the talk of the town..... I'm just wondering do you think the Pats will pick up another WR? And if so ........Who? Thanks for the time.
Sam Grant

Branch traded. I can't say that I didn't see that coming. Ty Law released, Adam Vinatieri not re-signed, Lawyer Milloy and Drew Bledsoe both traded. So, I couldn't see BB really giving in to him. Thank God at least someone puts their foot down on NFL "Stars." Besides that I was really impressed with the Patriots comeback efforts against the Bills despite only having 3 active WRs. I also really liked the Dillon/Maroney mix, but my question is when do you think we will finally get to see Chad Jackson get on the field? Also, now that Branch is most defiantly out of the picture how much more do you think they will use Ben Watson, Daniel Graham, and David Thomas? How much do you think this will affect Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell, Chad Jackson (when he returns) and Bam Childress? Last question, do you see the Patriots going out and signing another WR to bring more depth? I still think they should maybe give Todd Pinkston a shot even though he is injury prone. At this time any WR is better then having a lack of 'em.Michael Hobbs

Hi guys, So it is done - Branch has been traded to Seattle. At least the Pats got a 1st round pick out of it (won't help us this season though). I had a comment and a couple of questions. The comment part first - when a key player and the team runs into contractual issues - everyone tries to assuage fans saying "remember - it is a business". But the point is, we don't want to look at it as a business - we love the sport and the team. If we enjoyed following a business - we would sit in a boardroom. So - it is unreasonable to expect that we will still wish a player well when he leaves the team for more money. To wish them personal injury might be extreme - but I sure as heck won't wish them success. It is a sport to me and I am here to root for my team. Now to my questions: 1. Do you think the Pats made a mistake in letting Branch go? 2. What will the Pats do with the remaining salary cap room ? 3. Why is David Thomas not playing much of a role in the offense?
Nagen Murti

Deion Branch has fake teeth! Look at pictures from his rookie season, they are all jacked up! I'm just bitter...
Steve Morrison

Sometimes you learn the hard way! Deion's a class act, he kept his nose clean, he gave 110%on and off the field. But the Pats get a # 1 pick probably go with their own top 10 pick. Our offense is so predictable, anemic is too flattering. If Buffalo was the second game of the season we would have lost big. Nine guys in the box the rest of the year and we'll be under .500. Brady will be lucky to survive half a season. The chemistry we had at WR position is gone Brady has to think too much over what 1/2 million more per year what about Adam 250,000. My question is this do you see any similarities to the Jerry Jones - Jimmy Johnson situation where egos blew up a dynasty? Hope you choke on your money honey!
Mr. Jules Gorski

Boy a team trades one Super Bowl MVP wide receiver and the emails just start pouring in. After Sunday's big comeback win I really thought this one might just slide in unnoticed under the radar, sort of the like that Stealth Bomber that did the flyover for the opener at Gillette Stadium. Seriously, while some fans are quite upset, others have turned the page to the team that's left on the field and simply want to know where the receiving production is going to come from. It's all understandable considering the trade left even former teammates like Richard Seymour shocked and searching for the right things to say.
But the one thing we know now for certain is that Branch is a Seahawk and the Patriots now reportedly have an extra first-round pick in next April's draft. That pick will help next spring, and could very well help the team in the long run, but it won't be catching any passes for New England this fall.
That leaves the spotlight in the Patriots passing game on receivers like 14th year veteran Troy Brown, free agent addition Reche Caldwell, practice squad call-up Bam Childress, rookie Chad Jackson and recent trade addition Doug Gabriel. Jackson, still recovering from the hamstring injury that cost him all but three training camp practices, and Gabriel were inactive last Sunday. Brown, Caldwell and Childress combined to catch just four passes from Tom Brady on a day when the New England passing game struggled mightily.
Will that improve? Probably. But so will the level of competition. Will anybody in the group be able to step up and "replace" Branch? Doubtful. It takes a while to learn an offense, earn a quarterback's trust and confidence and prove yourself. Unfortunately these guys don't really have the luxury of time, as the effort against the Bills showed.
Of course there are others who believe that the missing production at receiver can be replaced by the running backs and tight ends, most notably by Benjamin Watson. But Watson had just three receptions against Buffalo. I'm sure his role will increase and he probably will have the breakout year that everyone is promoting. But I don't know if that will be enough to replace the production at receiver. One doesn't necessarily make up for the other.
And it's not like there are a lot of guys available right now. (I don't really think the likes of Charles Rogers or David Boston are all that appealing.) For the most part, what you see is what you get. Jackson is going to need to get on the field and help this offense. The same goes for Gabriel. Both certainly have the talent to do so.
The improved running game should help as well. Both Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney look very good against Buffalo. If that continues that will help take some of the pressure off Brady and the passing game. Maybe the Patriots will have to return to the days of a decent running game, strong defense and limited dink-and-dunk passing. It's certainly worked in the past.
The one thing I will say is you certainly have to give the Patriots credit for sticking with their organizational philosophy in terms of value. They set a value for Branch and weren't going to overpay him. He dug in for a long holdout and that sort of forced the trade, but you can't question the Patriots for sticking to their philosophy that has been successful for them over the years under Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. And as far as the money that the team has under the cap, reportedly in the range of $13 million at this point, I believe they will spend it. Whether it's extensions for guys like Dan Koppen, Daniel Graham or Asante Samuel, paying out a large portion of Seymour's bonus on this year's cap or simply using accounting measures to push some of the surplus over to next year's cap – I believe the Patriots will spend to the cap as they have always done in any given season.
There is little question that the team, over the short haul, would have been a better team with Branch in uniform. No one can argue that. Over the long run, maybe the money saved and pick they got will set the organization up for future successes. Only time will tell. But that's for the future. Right now Brady (who by the way is under contract with New England through 2010) needs someone to get open and catch the ball, two things Bill Belichick has always said he looks for in his receivers and two things Branch always did. Now Brady and Co. need someone else to step up and fill-in, just as so many other guys have done at so many different spots for New England over the years. Again, only time will tell if that can happen again.
Andy Hart

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