Deion Branch - What's the Deal?

In the face of the rumors that Deion Branch had reached contract agreements with both Seattle and the New York Jets, and the subsequent soap opera that still has yet to resolve itself, the shockingly handsome and articulate (yes, I am writing this about myself) Kyle Rota expounds endlessly on what Branch would bring to Seattle's already strong WR squad.

So, what is the deal with Deion Branch?
Well, according to ESPN, 6 years, and 36 million dollars.
Ok, that wasn’t funny to me either.

After the deal deadline passed at 4:00 PM EST on Friday, September 1, Branch filed a grievance against the Patriots for “violating a verbal agreement to trade Branch if they were offered ‘fair and reasonable’ compensation in return”, according to a report by NBCSports.com’s Tom Curran. On Friday evening, John Tomase of the Boston Herald reported that the Pats and Seahawks are still talking – quite possibly with Seattle giving up to a first or second and a mid-round pick for the player, and signing him to a long-term deal – somewhere in the neighborhood of six years, $13 million in guaranteed money, and up to $39 million total. What that would mean to the future of #1 wideout Darrell Jackson, out all preseason with a recurrent knee injury, would certainly be the subject of endless speculation (as if it isn’t already).

Right now, we don’t know if Seattle and New England will consummate this deal, but what we can do is take a closer look at Deion Branch the player, and what he would bring to the Seahawks.

Since being drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 2002 draft, Branch has gone on to solidify himself as Tom Brady’s favorite target (125 passes were thrown to him last year, most on the team) and a pretty darn good wideout.

Despite what Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald say, wide receiver is a position where rookies and second year players often don’t do squat. By the third year, the light usually comes on, though for some players (the exceptionally raw or those blocked by veterans) it can be later. Looking at Branch’s ‘04 (his third year) numbers, they’re actually pretty good. He only appeared in nine games, but caught 35 passes for 454 yards and four scores. And of course, anyone who wasn’t living under a rock knows about his Super Bowl MVP performance, where he shredded the Eagles defense for 11 receptions (matching a Super Bowl record) and 133 yards. Keep in mind that this Eagles defense sent three members of its secondary to Honolulu that year.

Looking beyond his standard stats, Football Outsiders is also fond of him. His catch percentage (number of passes caught divided by number of passes thrown to him) ranked 3rd in the league (69%) behind only Hines Ward and… Ronald Curry? His DVOA of 36.2% (DVOA considers everything from situation to offensive flatulency per snap, it’s arguably the most all-encompassing statistic for football) ranked 5th in the league. (DPAR is skewed against him because he missed seven games due to injury)

2005 is more of the same for Branch. He caught 78 passes for 998 yards and 5 scores. Again he looks good using Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics, ranking 12th in DPAR (more relevant than ‘04’s DPAR, because he played 16 games) and 13th in DVOA. His catch percentage dropped to “only” 62%, matching him up with players such as Larry Fitzgerald and Marvin Harrison.

It’s easy to look at the stats and find out that the guy is a great wide receiver. His numbers are also depressed because Tom Brady, much like our own Matt Hasselbeck, feels a moral obligation to spread the ball around. He’s not in the class of Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, and Terrell Owens, and might never be, but he’d be a starter in our offense with or without Darrell Jackson.

What does he bring to the table? Speed. He’s only 5’9, 191lbs (yeah, right, and Shaun Alexander runs a 4.3 40), but the little guy can move. Despite that, he’s more similar to a short Torry Holt than Santana Moss or Steve Smith. While Moss and Smith both catch a lot of screen passes, Holt and Branch (who does catch a few each year) are more standard wideouts who catch most of their passes more than a couple yards down the field. In three of his four years, his longest reception has been 49 yards or greater, indicating he knows how to use his speed.

As shown by his high catch percentage, Branch knows how to grab the football. He isn’t special after he catches it (3.2 yards after the catch, though Jackson (3.2) and Engram (4.0) are lower than I expected) but his average yards per catch last year was 12.8, very respectable.

This year his contributions would probably be limited - he isn’t going to magically pick up the West Coast Offense overnight, and the chemistry that Engram and Jackson have with Matt Hasselbeck was made strong over a period of years, not days like Branch would have before Seattle flies to Detroit to take on the Lions. However, Branch is a strong route-runner who is at his best finding holes in zone coverage, and those kinds of “smarts” usually helps players learn the playbook quickly. However, given Darrell Jackson’s possibly tenuous relationship with the front office, Branch could be the #1 wide receiver by the start of the 2007 season.

Before this contract situation came up with New England, Branch had never been anything other than your typical Patriot player - smart, hardworking, no problem in the locker room. A Google search shows nothing of any criminal record, and until this training camp he’d never been fined by the team for missing practices, meeting, etc. He’s not Terrell Owens; he’s a lot closer to Bobby Engram with a putrid contract.

He’s not going to be a huge player early on in the year. In fact, he might not even be active for a few weeks, given that we’ve already played our last pre-season game, but the investment Seattle would be making on Branch would start to show dividends by the end of the ‘06 season, and he would play a major role by 2007.

He’s also only 27 years of age, so the Seahawks would be catching Branch in the prime of his career.


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