Stallworth Now, or Branch Last Year?

Now that it appears the New England Patriots have found their man in free agent WR Donte Stallworth, should they be commended for signing a playmaker with issues? Or, should they be answering more questions about why didn't they just spend the money on Deion Branch last year? Think about what could have been if Branch were catching Brady's passes in the AFC Championship game.

As the ink begins to dry on the new 6-year, $33-million contract between free agent receiver Donte Stallworth and the New England Patriots, the question is vexed: Why couldn't the Patriots have just resigned Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch last September for similar money instead?

The Patriots are desperately trying to address their lack of depth in their receiver corps this off-season, which was created by their botched negotiations with Branch last season.

New England has always successfully taken a hard-line in resigning their free agents in the past, but in an unexpected turn of events during the Branch holdout in the 2006 training camp, the Patriots adopted a strange strategy in their negotiations. The team arrogantly allowed Branch and his representatives to seek a trade and new contract with other teams, confident the market would be small for the one-time Super Bowl MVP and he'd come crawling back to the Flying Elvis.

After Branch received better offers than the Patriots were willing to pay, the team lost its negotiating leverage over Branch, who was still under contract, and was forced to trade Branch to Seattle where the disgruntled wide-out signed a deal with the Seahawks worth roughly $39 million over 6 years with $13 million in guaranteed money.

Philadelphia Eagles' Donte Stallworth runs for a touchdown as New Orleans Saints safety Jay Bellamy (20) and cornerback Fred Thomas (22) give chase during the first half of the NFC divisional playoff football game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2007. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

 

With the signing of Stallworth, it doesn't make sense for an organization, with the history of stingy spending, to pay $33 million with approximately $12-million in bonus money for a wide-receiver, who, by the way, is coming off an injury-plagued season with the Eagles in 2006.

Instead of resigning Branch, Patriots fans were forced to endure a season of sub-par performances from Doug Gabriel, second round flop Chad Jackson, Reche Caldwell, Bam Childress, Kelvin Kight and Jabar Gaffney. Now you can add kickoff specialist Wes Welker, who the Patriots acquired earlier this month from Miami, and Stallworth to the list.

Granted, Stallworth has good talent. He played in 12 games for the Eagles last season, catching 38 passes for 725 yards and five touchdowns, but when it comes to Branch and where should the team spend money, it's the devil you knew. The Patriots knew what they had in Branch, a Super Bowl MVP and a player you can count on in the clutch. With Stallworth, they just have another guy with potential.

- Material from wire reports, Scout.com and PatriotsInsider.com archives was used in this article.

A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin here.


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