Should Bears Make a Play for Pats' Branch?

The New England Patriots gave holdout wide receiver Deion Branch a week to seek a trade and negotiate a contract with another team. The team's top receiving threat and 2005 Super Bowl MVP has until September 1st to find a new employer, the team said Friday. Neither Ashley Lelie nor Jerry Porter made much sense, but could Branch be a good fit in Chicago?

The rumor mill was churning a few weeks ago with speculation about the Bears making a play for disgruntled Denver wide receiver Ashley Lelie. It was reported that the Bears offered a fourth-rounder and/or disappointing defensive-end-turned-defensive-tackle Michael Haynes in exchange for the speedy deep threat, but nothing ever materialized. Lelie eventually ended up in Atlanta in a three-team deal involving the Redskins.

Another talented-yet-tempestuous wideout, Oakland's Jerry Porter, was supposedly on the trading block after it became public that he was not seeing eye-to-eye with head coach Art Shell. There was no confirmation that the Raiders and Bears ever discussed a deal for the former Mountaineer, and Porter remains in Oakland at the present moment. He'll have to settle for seeing single-coverage each and every play as he lines up opposite Randy Moss.

But some interesting news surfaced in New England today as Deion Branch, the Patriots' top receiving target and former Super Bowl MVP, has been given permission to seek a trade and work out a contract extension with another team. Needless to say, the Bears have been waiting for one of their youngster receivers to step up and take a larger role in the offense. Assuming that doesn't happen this evening against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 of the preseason, should GM Jerry Angelo inquire about Branch?

His numbers didn't exactly set the NFL on fire last season (78 receptions for 998 yards and five touchdowns), but it's no secret that Branch was the alpha dog of a very deep Patriots receiving corps. Tom Brady spreads the ball around as well as any quarterback in football, as evidenced by his league-leading 4,110 passing yards in 2005. But the last time he played on the world's biggest stage, Super Bowl XXXIX, Branch stole the show with a record 11 catches for 133 yards.

The Bears know what they have in Muhsin Muhammad, despite the fact that his numbers were just about cut in half last season. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton and a heavy reliance on running the football were largely responsible for Muhammad's unspectacular Bears debut. Nonetheless, he is capable of catching 80 balls again, and his 6'2" frame makes him a dangerous red zone option.

Branch, however, is not that kind of player, and that might actually be a good thing if given a chance to wear a Bears uniform. He may only be 5'9", but he is lightning quick, knows how to get open, and is a legitimate home run threat every time he lines up on the field. If Angelo is looking for a complementary player to Muhammad, Branch fits the description awfully well.

Lelie was not the answer. A former first-rounder out of Hawaii, he has turned into a one-trick pony only interested in the deep ball and unwilling to take a hit over the middle. Branch has never been afraid to make a catch in traffic.

Porter would not have been a good fit, either. Too similar in size and stature to Muhammad, he simply does not bring additional skills to the lineup. Not to mention the fact that Lelie and Porter both have reputations as selfish players with bad attitudes.

Branch may currently be holding out of Patriots camp, but personality has never really been an issue with him. As a second-round pick back in 2002, he feels that he has outperformed his original rookie contract and deserves a nice raise. He very well might be overvaluing himself, but for a team desperately needing another offensive weapon for Rex Grossman to throw to, perhaps the Bears should strike while Branch is in the midst of his grass-is-greener syndrome.

Maybe Mark Bradley fully recovers from last year's ACL injury and becomes the all-around receiver the Bears believe he can be. Maybe Bernard Berrian continues his steady progress and learns to avoid the ticky-tack injuries that have slowed his development from time to time. Maybe Rashied Davis turns into a breakout star one year after making the switch from cornerback.


There are very few maybes with Branch. He may not be the elite receiver he thinks he is at this point, but he would certainly be an upgrade over what the Bears have opposite Muhammad right now. They have a Super Bowl defense, no question about it, but the offense has to step it up a notch if they have any desire to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLI down in Miami Gardens.

It has been reported that any deal New England makes for Branch would have to include some sort of pass-catcher in return. Might he be worth Bradley and a conditional pick in next year's draft? Bradley has all the talent to develop into a better player than Branch down the road, but right now, Branch makes them a better team, hands down.

At the very least, Angelo should give Patriots GM Scott Pioli a call to see if he's really bluffing.


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