Deion Branch is 33, and he’s not getting any younger. Though he still maintains the level of talent needed to continue playing, he has naturally declined. Apparently the Patriots felt the same way when they released him on August 31. Well… maybe not. On September 18, the Patriots re- signed Branch for a third stint with the team. It was reported to be a 1 year contract worth $925,000. Many believe that Branch was signed due to the Hernandez injury, but all signs point to that not being the case. According to Michael Witmer, (Boston.com), the Patriots may have planned to re-sign Branch shortly after he was cut. Branch’s locker, next to Brady’s, was never touched after he was released. His name was still hanging high above his equipment.
Actually, it all makes sense; Brady and Branch have always seemed to connect, on and off the field. Historically, Branch has been a perfect fit with the veteran leadership provided by QB Tom Brady. The hopes are that he can continue to contribute to a high performing offense. It was reported that the entire Patriots team, including Brady, were all smiles when Branch returned to the franchise; each player giving Deion a hug. This type of team chemistry can’t be bought, and is essential to the team’s success.
Throughout Branch’s time in New England, he has posted exceptionally good numbers; with 312 receptions, 4,152 yards and 24 touchdowns. These numbers were good enough to make Branch the number two receiver during most of his years with the Patriots, but this year, he’ll be the Pats third, or possibly fourth receiver. Many Patriots fans have come to expect this type of natural decline in a seasoned vet like Branch. So the question is… how much will he really be able to contribute at the number three/four spot?
Before Branch re-signed with New England, several teams around the league had actually inquired about his services. He possibly may have been a number two, or even a number one starter for any of these NFL teams, but instead chose to be the number three receiver back in New England. This truly shows the level of respect that Branch, and many former players, have for this Patriots organization. Willing to take limited time to be apart of this team, it’s most likely that leadership skills are the reason why the Patriots decided to bring Branch back.
This Sunday will be a true test for Branch to see if he still has anything left in the tank. He should expect to have extended playing time, due to the Hernandez injury. But with the swarming defense of the Ravens, (consisting of future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed), Branch will have to bring his “A” game and make the most of his opportunity to show that he is still relevant.