Receiver Wants Contract Extension, Raise
Holdout No Reason to Panic
As if the New England Patriots didn't have enough problems at wide receiver, Super Bowl XXIX MVP Deion Branch skipped this morning's mandatory minicamp in Foxboro. Branch, in the last season of his five-year rookie deal, wants a contract extension and is sitting out.
Last season, Richard Seymour shook Patriots Nation when he sat out minicamp in a similar situation. The sports talk programs were a-flutter with questions like: "What if he sits out the season?" "What if the team plays hardball like they did with Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law?" "What will the defense be without him?"
Of course, there's a huge difference (in many ways) between Seymour and those "other" guys. Seymour eventually got not only the extension he wanted -- four years -- he got a big, fat, juicy raise. Of course, at the time, he was a three-time Pro Bowler and on his way to a fourth. And he was, and is, an indispensable element of the "Homeland Defense."
Hysteria over Branch's holdout hasn't reached critical mass, and in a way it's kind of surprising. And in a way, it's not. Branch is, without a doubt, New England's top veteran wide receiver, and he's an important -- but not critical -- cog in the offense. He's not a Pro Bowler.
Really, he's not nearly as valuable as Seymour is. But we're talking apples and oranges. Seymour is one of a kind, and that was evident in the games he missed and the games in which he played last season. He can change a game.
Branch is "upper middle class" or maybe the "lower upper class." He's very good, but he's not quite great. You'd rather have him on the field than on the sideline, but you're not counting on him to make the decisive play, or draw defenders off the other receivers.
Like the Patriots last Super Bowl-winning defense, this evolving offense is much more diverse. Most teams won't know what to expect from New England, much the way the "old" Bill Belichick defenses [used to?] confuse the heck out of quarterbacks. (Isn't that just like Belichick? Everyone focusing on his defensive genius, and he suddenly builds a frightening offense.)
The additions of free agent Reche Caldwell and second-round draft pick Chad Jackson (Branch was taken in the second round in 2002) add to this team what the losses of David Givens and Bethel Johnson took away. This season, expect to see an even more expanded role for tight ends Daniel Graham and Ben "Coates" Watson. You'll also have sure-handed Kevin Faulk and fellow backs Corey Dillon, first-round pick Laurence Maroney and fullback Patrick Pass coming out of the backfield. Fullback screens, tailback screens, tight end screens, wide receivers screens -- New England is going to butter its bread on screens this season. That will open up things downfield and will also loosen up the line for the running game.
What? Oh. Right. Branch.
"I am not going to talk about anybody who's not here, other than I'll say that Branch's absence is unexcused," Belichick said. "I've said all I'm going to say. Discipline is between players and the team."
Typical Belichick. He's clearly not happy, but he's not reaching for the panic button.
Also typical was player response, with Tom Brady and Troy Brown among others saying how they wished Branch were there, but business is business, and that's that. They're all pretty busy playing football anyway.
According to Patriots.com, Branch has earned the in the vicinity of minimum salary in addition to a $1 million signing bonus in his rookie contract. Word is he's looking for a multi-year extension with $12 million in guaranteed money.
Not to worry. Branch isn't quite Seymour, but he's a far different situation from Milloy and Law. The Patriots will sign him. He'll get an extension and a fair raise. And he'll be there catching passes by opening day, if not by preseason.
Deion Branch's holdout is ...
This poll is closed
... critical! The Pats can't win without him!
... important. The Pats aren't desperate, but they need him.
... no big deal. It'll get resolved, and everyone will be happy.
... irrelevant. Hey, Deion. Go ask Milloy how it's working out for him.