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Patriots gets WR Gabriel during Branch holdout

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Sept. 2, 2006) -- Wide receiver Doug Gabriel was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the New England Patriots, who faced the uncertainty of whether holdouDeion Branch will return.

The Raiders announced the deal, but did not say what they would receive as compensation.

Gabriel, who was scheduled to start across from Randy Moss, has 71 receptions in three seasons and fills a need on the Patriots even if Branch, their best receiver and the MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl, does return.

Before the trade, Tom Brady's top targets at wide receiver were Reche Caldwell and Troy Brown, both backups last season. Chad Jackson, the Patriots' second-round draft choice from Florida, has been sidelined nearly all summer with a hamstring injury. David Givens, the No. 2 wide receiver last year, signed with Tennessee as a free agent.

Branch, who has one year left on his contract worth $1.045 million, is holding out for more money and wasn't at the mandatory June minicamp or the official training camp. On Sept. 1, the dispute took a significant turn when he filed a grievance against the Patriots.

They had given him one week, until 4 p.m. on Sept. 1 to negotiate contracts with other teams and seek a trade. The New York Jets reportedly offered him a six-year deal worth about $39 million and would send New England a second-round draft pick, the same round in which Branch was chosen in 2002. Seattle also was interested.

The grievance filed by the NFL Players Association alleges the Patriots "reneged" on an agreement to trade Branch, said Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel.

The grievance said that in allowing Branch to work out a contract with another team, the Patriots agreed they would trade him if he were comfortable with that contract and if 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 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.

The Raiders had depth at wide receiver with Moss, Gabriel, Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry.

"Everybody came in thinking he was going to be a big part of the offense, so it was a big surprise," Curry said. "They didn't make that decision because of me. We've got some talented guys here, but I don't make those decisions. "

Gabriel is a downfield receiver with good hands, like Branch, but is 6-foot-2, five inches taller than Branch.

A fifth-round draft choice out of Central Florida in 2003, Gabriel has started seven of his 42 pro games. Last year, he had career highs of 37 catches for 554 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games, two of them starts.

Branch, who is subject to a $14,000 fine for each day he held out until the regular season, caught 78 passes for 988 yards and five touchdowns last year, 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.

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