Sources Weigh in on Branch Speculation

The Vikings could be in the market for a wide receiver in the midst of the Koren Robinson situation, and New England's Deion Branch is allowed to seek a trading partner. What does that mean for the Vikings? We talked to several sources Friday about the situation to get a handle on his value, what the Patriots would seek in a trade, and what kind of contract numbers he is seeking.

Potentially looking for a boost to their receiving corps with a possible suspension looming for wide receiver Koren Robinson, the Vikings' options grew by one intriguing prospect Friday afternoon when the New England Patriots announced that they will allow Deion Branch to seek a trading partner.

"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 Patriots announced Friday.

Branch and his agent, Jason Chayut, have been disgruntled because the Patriots and their leading receiver last year have been unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension, and he has been holding out of Patriots camp despite the team's threat to fine him up to $14,000 per day he misses.

Branch indicated earlier this week to CBS4 in Boston that things would work out, but the Patriots allowing Branch to seek a trade could just be getting him to test his market value.

"I've got a great feeling that we're both going to do what's right," Branch told CBS4 before New England's announcement. "We're going to make sure everything works out."

The Vikings and Eagles could be two of the top teams looking for a starting receiver, the Eagles to complement Reggie Brown and the Vikings to throw into the mix with Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor. Interestingly, the Eagles' vice president of player personnel, Jason Licht, was a scout and player personnel evaluator for the Patriots for four years.

The Bears, who were interested in trading for WR Ashlie Lelie before he went to the Atlanta Falcons in a three-team deal earlier this week, might also be candidates, although they are probably looking for more of a No. 3 receiver. Other teams that might potentially be in the market to trade for a wide receiver are Kansas City, Buffalo, San Francisco and New Orleans, if the Saints end up trading Donte Stallworth. Stallworth could be another potential receiver of interest for the Vikings if the Saints decide to trade the receiver who has been in the doghouse of the two most recent coaching staffs in New Orleans for a lackluster work ethic, according to a league source. 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. Asked for his assessment on Branch's value in regards to a trade, a former Vikings coach told Viking Update that Branch is definitely worth a second-round pick and possibly a late first-round pick if the Vikings believe they will be good enough this year and fall into the latter portion of the first round in the 2007 NFL draft.

"We always can use guys of his caliber. Obviously, I don't know if New England is just going to give him up like that," said tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who played in New England before Branch arrived there in 2002. "He's such a valuable piece of their offense, but that's well beyond me and my knowledge. If I was the GM, I probably would have paid him the money that he feels like he deserves. The Super Bowl MVP is a good player."

The Patriots attempted to negotiate an extension of Branch's rookie contract, a five-year deal he signed in 2002. He is scheduled to make $1.045 million in 2006, and league sources say he is seeking a contract in the range of a deal that Colts receiver Reggie Wayne signed recently, a five-year, $40 million contract with $13.5 million in bonuses and guarantees.

But the Patriots have made attempts to get his contract extended, according to a league source – a five-year, $31 million offer with $11 million in guarantees and a four-year, $19 million offer with $8 million in guarantees. According to a source, Branch's camp is looking for a higher average per season, even though the bonus money would be similar to Wayne's deal.

Those offers aren't bad for a receiver who had a career year in 2005 but still wasn't able to break the 1,000-yard barrier. In 2005, he managed 78 receptions for 998 yards and five touchdowns. In comparison, Wayne averaged 80 receptions for 1,133 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year the last two seasons.

"He's a good player. I know he's a good player. The guy's a Super Bowl MVP so that should tell you a lot about him," Wiggins said.

The perception that the Patriots weren't willing to part with Branch earlier in the week could be an indicator that the Patriots' trade allowances are simply a way to bring Branch and Chayut back to the negotiating table and into a frame of mind that would fit New England's previous offers.

Without Branch, the Patriots would be without their top two receivers from last season, as David Givens signed a five-year, $24 million deal, including an $8 million signing bonus, with Tennessee. That furthers the speculation that the Patriots might just be letting Branch test his market value in hopes that he would accept a proposal similar to one of the two already offered to him by New England.

If the Patriots don't trade Branch this season, they could always place the franchise tag on him next year.

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