The New England Patriots had a very busy Tuesday, first making a trade for linebacker Akeem Ayers, then turning around and signing defensive tackle Alan Branch, a mammoth former second round pick that could be a Godsend for a defense that has depth issues up front. The signing of Branch also tells us the Tommy Kelly release was a mistake.
Branch was expected to be a top ten pick when he came out of Michigan, but he ended up slipping and the Cardinals grabbed him with the 33rd pick of the 2007 draft. His first two seasons were more developmental and frustrating than they were productive, but that began to change in 2009. After only appearing in 15 total games in '07 and '08, Branch played in all 16 games in '09, providing good production for a part-time player.
2010 was a breakout year for Branch, and he did it while only starting three out of 16 games. Branch parlayed his 27 tackles, 2 sacks and two forced fumbles into a new contract with the Seattle Seahawks. In Seattle, Branch started all 31 games he was active for and provided excellent run defense for one of if not the best unit in football. After two strong years in Seattle, Branch took his talents to Buffalo, which allowed the Patriots to get an up close look at the giant defensive tackle. He started 13 of 16 games in 2013 and continued to do what he does best- clog up the middle and provide an occasional pass rush.
The 29-year-old Branch was released on August 24 due to a DUI that occurred the night before, 14 hours before kickoff. Branch was not in the Bills good graces at the time of the DUI so when that occurred, they simply moved on. Branch had signed an extension in December of 2013, but clearly that didn't work out.
With the issues the Patriots have had, Branch will have an opportunity to come in and play immediately, assuming he kept himself in relatively decent shape. He failed a conditioning test with Buffalo in July, but getting released tends to light a fire in pro athletes. The Patriots are hoping that a chance to play for a contender will push Branch to play his best and provide the help they desperately need.