The New England Patriots and free agent wideout Deion Branch have come to a mildly surprising agreement on a one-year contract. Terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed, but it is believed to be a very team-friendly pact.
Patriots reached agreement on a one-year deal with WR Deion Branch.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 22, 2012
Personally, I have to eat my crow for vehemently defending the position that Branch wouldn't return in 2012. While I left open the possibility for a Kevin Faulk-esque, one-year offer and invite to training camp, I seriously didn't think it would happen.
The free agent additions of Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez over the last week made a return even more unlikely. Add in the fact that the Patriots were reportedly interested in Reggie Wayne and Jabar Gaffney and it begs the question, why would they even want Branch?
With Wes Welker, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman and, technically but not technically, Matthew Slater factored into the equation, New England has eight wide receivers under contract. From a personnel perspective, that's a bit high, and it may prevent the team from looking into draft prospects at the position.
Then again, if you honestly consider the roster, there is a definite tier-system developing as New England constructs its depth. Welker, Lloyd and the two tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, represent the top tier, and by no coincidence, the top-paid players at the position.
With four Pro Bowl-caliber players under contract to catch passes from Brady, the Patriots have already put themselves in great position. Consider how much the team has spent, or rather saved, on the likes of Gonzalez, Branch and Stallworth, and things begin to make more sense.
Bill Belichick knows full well not all of these players will impact his 2012 squad (Ochocinco in 2011), and he knows a couple of them may not even make the final roster cuts. But he also knows one might just prove to be a lottery ticket, and a winning one at that.
My guess is that Branch's contract is of the non-guaranteed variety, and I'll still be surprised if he's receiving checks when the season begins.
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