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Branch remains with Pats, files grievance

BOSTON (Sept. 1, 2006) -- The NFL Players Association filed a grievance on behalf of holdout wide receiver Deion Branch after the New England Patriots did not trade him before the team-imposed deadline for him to seek a deal.

Richard Berthelsen, lawyer for the union, said the grievance alleges that the Patriots "reneged" on an agreement to trade their best receiver, who is entering the last season of a five-year contract he signed as a rookie.

On Aug. 25, the Patriots gave Branch, who is scheduled to make $1.045 million this year, permission to negotiate a contract with other teams and seek a trade until 4 p.m. on Sept. 1.

At 4:02 p.m. on Sept. 1, the Patriots issued a statement saying, "No trade has been consummated. Deion Branch remains under contract to the New England Patriots."

The grievance alleges that in allowing Branch to work out a contract with another team, the Patriots agreed they would trade him if Branch was comfortable with that contract and the draft choice compensation for him "was commensurate with what has been the value of similar players," Berthelsen said in a telephone interview.

He said the New York Jets offered a second-round draft pick for Branch, which Berthelsen said was of commensurate value.

He noted that Branch was the 65th player drafted in 2002, one of the last in the second round, and that Miami sent a second-round pick to Minnesota before this season for quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

"We filed a grievance today and we're expediting the case," meaning it must be heard within seven days, Berthelsen said.

The Jets, who are in need of a playmaker, were one of several teams interested in Branch, the MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl. They reportedly agreed to the parameters of a six-year, $39 million deal, but the teams couldn't agree on the draft choice compensation.

Jason Chayut, Branch's agent, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In a conference call, Patriots coach Bill Belichick refused several times to expand on the team's statement.

"I'll let that speak for itself," he said. Belichick had similar responses when asked to comment on the grievance, if the team deadline was final and whether the team was still trying to trade Branch.

The coach didn't respond when asked whether he miscalculated Branch's value on the open market.

Branch is entering the last season of the five-year contract he signed as a rookie. He held out of the mandatory minicamp in June and all of training camp. He is subject to a $14,000 fine for each day he holds out from July 28, the start of training camp.

Last season, he caught 78 passes for 988 yards and five touchdowns, all career highs. In his four seasons, he has 213 receptions for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the 2005 Super Bowl he had 11 catches for 133 yards against Philadelphia as the Patriots won their third championship in four years.

The Patriots are without their top two receivers from last season. David Givens signed with Tennessee as a free agent for five years and $24 million, including an $8 million signing bonus.

Both were drafted in 2002. Givens, taken in the seventh round out of Notre Dame, received a four-year contract, allowing him to enter free agency and get a big contract a year earlier than Branch, who was drafted in the second round out of Louisville.

Rookie wide receiver Chad Jackson, a second-round draft pick, is sidelined with a hamstring injury that kept him out of most of training camp. Reche Caldwell, who played for San Diego last year, and Troy Brown are the team's most experienced receivers.

Jets coach Eric Mangini knows what Branch can add to an offense. Mangini was Patriots defensive coordinator last season and spent five years there as an assistant. The Jets are in desperate need of upgrading their receiving corps. Laveranues Coles is the top player but the Jets don't have much after him.

Justin McCareins has been a disappointment and is in danger of losing his starting job. The Jets signed Tim Dwight in the offseason but he has been hurt. Jerricho Cotchery, who has 25 career catches with no touchdowns in two seasons, is expected to start the season.

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