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Ask PFW Part I: Branch still out, Seau in

The public portion of training camp 2006 has come to a close and the preseason competition for jobs, roles and roster spots is building to a head.

Is Deion Branch selfish by going AWOL at a time when the Patriots as a team have been hurt by other teams taking away Brady's receivers, while he's still under contract? Do you think that Jonathan Kraft will give in to Branch's demands? Branch has been hurt in the past, prone to injury. Do you think that his demands are fair, given that he signed a contract and agreed to different terms? Do you think that Branch is a bit LOCO by demanding that he get paid NOW, instead of waiting until the end of the year? If Chad [Jackson] performs and Branch returns, without getting as many catches as [Jackson] or being out-performed, do you think that the pats have a better bargaining position? Teammates vote who the MVP is in a Super Bowl. Do you think Branch is letting down people who voted for him? Do you think his agent would try to pull such a trick if he were not voted MVP? Rodney Harrison could have won the MVP to the most recent Super Bowl trip.Brenda Silverstein

I have one simple question, as I believe in an article I read Deion Branch's agent said in basic terms, "Please don't Franchise tag Branch"! My question is, Why wouldn't Branch want to be Franchised and why wouldn't the Pats want to franchise him? It would lock him up for another year favoring the Pats and he would make 7 million next year favoring Branch! Not to mention that he could use it to pay off his half a mill and counting fines!!!
Justin Bridges

I know you have been getting a lot of Branch questions, sorry but I have one also. Unlike a lot, I'm not pointing fingers and blaming either side. Unfortunately this is the nature of the NFL today. I hope they can work it out because I do like Deion Branch. My question is, how long do you think Branch can hold out before it effects the season for him? Meaning, if he was to hold out for the whole season. Wouldn't he and the Patriots be in the same predicament next year? That he would still owe one more year on his contract. Or if he held out and nothing was resolved, then started playing lets say in mid October. Would he still owe New England the weeks he missed on his contract or would it just effect the money he is due? ThanksJasson Cote
Sanford, Me.

Please Patriots management, get Deion signed up! Do whatever it takes to get it done; you're gaining the reputation of being [jerks] to the players. Stop punishing the top players.
Ed, Lighthouse Point, FL

I know Deion Branch isn't the first or the last professional football player to hold out in hopes of a better financial situation; but one must wonder really, "why Deion, why!?". He has seen some of the best days imaginable in NE; winning two Super Bowls and an SB MVP title. And now that Rookie contract, that is still in effect, is all of a sudden not good enough to play for? He accepted the Patriots offer with open arms when he signed in 2002, and is now balking at a contract that he agreed to. I am also aware that he had out played this contract, that is not in question. But at least play it out, man up and enter free agency clean of any ties from management. He is turning his back on the team and the organization. The same organization that scouted him, drafted him, groomed him, and put forth the effort along with him to be at the point we are today. To say he's doing himself better by sitting out than playing the '06 season with personal aspirations of again being SB MVP and increasing his stock twenty fold!
Mark Scholz

As this sampling of emails shows, Branch's holdout remains a hot topic in Patriots Nation as the regular season draws ever closer. I must admit, I am a little torn on the whole holdout issue and always have been. I can see both sides. The team holds a contract that a player signed. The player feels he has outperformed the deal and wants to be better compensated. And the player knows that had he underperformed, he would be asked to take a pay cut or be sent packing, something we've seen endless times in the past. But there is even more to the issue than that inherent NFL non-guaranteed contract argument. I'll try to address the above emails and all the issues they bring up.
First, Branch is being selfish to some degree. That's what a holdout is about – the player and his getting his money. But is the team being selfish when they stick to certain guns in contract negotiations? Negotiations aren't always pretty, it's just a part of the game. Life isn't always fair. And while the team would rather have Branch in camp, than not, I don't think he really starts hurting the team's bottom line until he continues his holdout through a regular season game. While I never thought it would reach that point, I'm just not so sure anymore.
As far as the Super Bowl MVP angle, yes that adds to his value on some level. But that award is voted on by the media and has nothing to do with his teammates in that game. If you want to say Branch is letting down his teammates right now, you can make an argument for that. But the MVP award from Super Bowl XXXIX has nothing to do with it.
The franchise tag and fines have become an interesting aspect of this holdout/negotiation. Branch's camp reportedly claims he would return to the team if New England promises not to apply the franchise tag to him next spring. But why would the Patriots give up that bargaining chip and piece of insurance? I wouldn't. The team could franchise Branch for a year or two and pay him around $7 million a season with no long-term commitments. Having that option, and as many options as possible, is simply good business. Obviously Branch is looking for a longer extension, and it's requisite big payday in terms of signing bonus. While he'd earn somewhere around $8 million for this year and next if the team uses the franchise tag spring, Branch could get more than $8 million in a single check of signing bonus money if he signs an extension. And he would get other salaries and bonuses on top of that. That's why he wants to get an extension now or at the very least get to free agency next spring without the franchise tag hanging over his head.
And the fines that he's potentially building up right now, $14,000 a day if the team chooses to enforce them, are starting to become a significant number. While I doubt Branch will ever have to pay the money, it's another bargaining chip for the team and hurdle for the negotiations to either get him in camp or an extension.
Finally, Branch's options are limited. He's under the final year of his rookie five-year deal. So if he chooses to really dig in for this holdout, Branch can sit out the first 10 weeks of the season and return for the final six games in order to get credit for an accrued season. If he didn't return, he'd still be under contract for next year and be in the same spot he's in now. If he does choose to holdout and return for the final six games, the Patriots would have to pay him and take him in, although obviously they don't have to play him or even activate him for games. But, thanks to the new CBA, New England cannot bar him from the facility and tell him to stay home like teams have done with Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson in recent years.
All said, the Branch situation remains a complex one. While there is no reason to believe he'll be back in camp tomorrow or any time soon, there is no reason to believe that couldn't happen, either. Both sides have been rather quiet. How it turns out is anyone's guess and depends on how the two sides play it out. The longer it goes, the more damage it does to New England's season because the Patriots are clearly a better football team with Deion Branch than without.
Andy Hart

OK, all respect in the world to Junior Seau's great career. But the Patriots have a problem with injuries to LBs, and Seau's recent history has been nothing but injuries. And now he's a year older. Does this signing make any sense? Bringing in broken down older players and hoping they can stay healthy is a strategy that has cursed the secondary over the last few seasons. Not that there are a lot of great options at LB at the moment, I will give you that. But wouldn't giving more reps to younger players like Banta-Cain be better than giving them to a more talented player who is likely to be injured sooner rather than later, forcing the younger-but-less-talented player into the lineup anyway, but now with much less game experience?? Seems to me like they should be learning from the recent mistakes in the defensive backfield (e.g. Starks) and going with younger players who may not be spectacular, but who will at least be there every week and be consistent.
Nate Stafford

Would it be correct to say the signing of Junior Seau is a patchwork move that really hides the fact that the Pats chose not to address their linebacker need during the draft? Do you think the Pats will be exposed at linebacker come the playoffs?
Chip Heard

I guess it's a great thing to have Seau join the Pats, rather than having to play against him. Although I believe he is not as dominating as he once was, it's a great addition of depth. What do you think his role will be? Will he play consistently or more of a situational role? And most important did the Pats hire him to learn more about what Saban has planned in Miami? Bringing in someone from a division rival is always a plus and I think that's another reason why Seau was added to the Pats today. What do you think?
Andres Ochoa

Sorry Eight Man, but I don't think your conspiracy angle really had much to do with the signing of Seau. The Patriots are extremely thin at linebacker and needed to add experienced depth. Seau is clearly not the player he was 10 years ago, but he's still probably a better option than a lot of the players New England has had to force into action. Don Davis is a great special teams player, good leader and tremendous athlete, but I don't think he would be successful as a starting inside linebacker in this system. It's a role he's not equipped to fill. Barry Gardner is a little better an option, but he's a journeyman free agent for a reason and is not a sure-fire answer. Beyond that there isn't a lot on the depth chart besides the injured Monty Beisel (who's been sliding down the chart), Tedy Bruschi and valuable outside guy Mike Vrabel. Will Seau be able to play every down or even all 16 weeks? Maybe not, but whatever he can contribute will be a help to the team, especially until Bruschi is healthy. Desperation move? Somewhat. New England has brought guys in late in the past who've made huge contributions. Other times the late moves didn't work out so well. Time will tell where this one fits on the spectrum. Seau has had injuries the last two years in Miami, but before that had missed virtually no time over his previous 13 seasons. If he's durable enough, he'll help this team out. If he's not, or if he struggles to learn the system, they're no worse off than they were without him. It's a no-lose signing.
Andy Hart

The Pats defense last night had a certain look to it, similar to the years before last year's defensive disaster. The communication and positioning looks better, more balls were tipped and some intercepted. I know that could just be the Cardinals, but either way it was nice to see them making more plays than what we were used to last year. Banta-Cain seemed to look good, as he got in on some of the plays, although it did look like there were some missed blocks by the offense on him, what do you guys think about his improvement and contributions to the defense? Do you think Tully will just be there to give the OLBs a breather, or do you think he will force Vrabel to be more valuable in middle? On the other hand, there seemed to be improvement on Beisel's part (so I read) before he got injured, hopefully Vrabel can stay on the outside if Monty picks it all up again, that'll all be interesting to watch unfold. One last thing is that Kevin Faulk looked great last night. Having him as an option is a great weapon and I think he really gives the offense an extra facet to it.Scott Cannistraro

The defense did look better against Arizona, with guys flying around and making plays. I think a lot of that started up front with great play from the front seven in stuffing the run, owning the line of scrimmage and rushing the passer. New England has a very good line and it needs to come through big for this team to succeed. At linebacker, Banta-Cain did make some plays against some suspect blocking. Belichick has called this his best training camp and that he's battling for a lot of playing time. I'm not sure if he's ready, but it's looking like he's going to get the chance to be a regular contributor on defense this fall. I haven't seen a lot that makes me think he'll be an immediate impact player, but I'll trust Bill on this one. If he can, that allows Rosevelt Colvin to move to the left side of the defense and Vrabel to slide inside. Vrabel is probably more valuable as an outside playmaker, but we know he can succeed on the inside and that might be where the team needs him most right now. Even if Seau finds a role early in the season, I'd be surprised if we don't see Vrabel inside some of the time. And I'm not sure what role Beisel is going to play, as he seems to be falling out of the mix. I had high hopes for him entering training camp, but now I'm not sure he'll even make the roster. As far as Faulk, I don't think he's ever gotten the credit he's deserved in New England. People like to harp on his fumbles, but he's made a lot of huge plays for this team over the years. I think in terms of reliable third-down backs and playmakers out of the backfield, he's a huge value to this team. Add in his hard work and team-first attitude and he's one of those unsung heroes that fly beneath the radar on championship football teams.
Andy Hart

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