In a statement released by the team today if Deion Branch can find a trading partner the Patriots appear willing to deal the former Super Bowl MVP.
"The New England Patriots have given Deion Branch permission to seek a trade and negotiate a contract with other clubs. This permission will extend until September 1, 2006."
The position being adopted by the Patriots is in stark contrast to comments Branch made earlier in the week. In an interview with CBS4 in Boston, Branch said that he felt things would "work out."
"I've got a great feeling that we're both going to do what's right," Branch said. "We're going to make sure everything works out."
Branch is in the midst of a contract squabble with the team, which involved negotiations for an extension to provide the former Super Bowl MVP with a new deal. Currently Branch is scheduled to make $1,045,000 in base salary, a number inflated by an escalator clause Branch reached earlier. Sources report that Branch is looking to upgrade that rookie contract to a deal closer to the one Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne received - five-years 40 Million with $13.5 million in bonus and guarantees.
According to league sources, the Patriots have made two offers to Branch and his representative. One offer was for five years $31 million with $11 million guaranteed. The other was a four-year deal for $19 million with $8 million guaranteed.
Those numbers appear to fall well short of the deal Branch's camp is looking for.
The idea that the Patriots are willing to part with Branch - a move many feel could seriously hamper the Patriots ability to return to the playoffs - is an indication that the talks have taken on a decidedly negative perspective. While New England would be hesitant to let Branch get away easily, sources confirm the Patriots appreciate his value even if they can't keep Branch on the team.
Scout.com's NFL Expert Adam Caplan reports that according to various league sources the Patriots will be looking for at least a first-round pick in compensation should they choose to deal Branch.
The team's asking price is indicative of their perception of value from the former Louisville product. Branch had a career year in 2005, managing 78 receptions for 998 yards and five touchdowns. In comparison, Wayne averaged 80 receptions for 1133 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year the last two seasons.
If New England does opt to trade Branch, Tom Brady's remaining wide receiving corps would include just one receiver from last season, 13-year veteran Troy Brown.