Patriots Free Agents 2012: Deion Branch

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with teammate Deion Branch #84 on the field prior to their AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Over the next few weeks, we'll be looking at each Patriots free agent and projecting whether or not they will re-sign with the Patriots this offseason;

Deion Branch

Age: 32

Position: Wide Receiver

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

2011 Stats: 15 games played; 15 games started; 51 receptions, 702 yards, 5 touchdowns

Overview: Deion Branch's days as a full-time starter in New England are likely over. Returning to the team for the final 11 games over the 2010 season, Branch caught 48 passes for 706 yards and five touchdowns. In 2011, Branch started the year really hot, snagging seven passes for 93 yards in the season opener and catching eight passes for 129 yards against San Diego in week two. However, ever since that game, Branch's production really slowed and inconsistent. He only had one other 100 game - that was against Philadelphia in week 12. The problem seemed to be that Branch just couldn't consistently separate any longer. Nonetheless, Branch remains a savvy route runner and arguably has the best chemistry of any Tom Brady target. In the Divisional Playoffs, he made the big 61 yard touchdown reception from Tom Brady against the Broncos. And in the Super Bowl, he made some plays to keep the Patriots' hopes alive on the final drive. While, going forward, I don't see Branch as a #1 or #2 option, I think he is definitely worth keeping around. I spoke with Branch after the Super Bowl, and he consistently reiterated that there was no other team he wanted to play for. Branch is 32, which really isn't that old when it comes to NFL receivers. I think he is still a viable option as a #3 or #4 receiver, and I think he's willing to take a hometown discount to stay with the Patriots. When you add all of these factors up, I think Branch returns to New England on a cheap two year deal that will also allow the team to part ways with him after 2012 if his skills continue to diminish.

Prediction: Signs a 2 year, $3 million deal with the Patriots

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