Patriots Free Agency: New England Re-Signs Deion Branch & Its Effect on WR Corps
Branch will be 33 when the 2012 season begins, and entering his 11th season in the league. He's been surprisingly durable, given his past injury history while with the Seattle Seahawks: he's only missed two games since his 2010 return to Foxboro.
After slot machine Wes Welker, Branch was Brady's No. 2 option at wide receiver, playing on about 75 percent of the Patriots' offensive snaps.That said, he was only the No. 4 receiving option overall, given the development of the Patriots' "thunder and lightning" combo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at tight end. Branch finished the 2011 season with 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns.
With no other changes to the roster, it would be hard to see Branch improving significantly over these numbers. That said, the Patriots haven't stood pat, so to speak, at WR. They've brought in Brandon Lloyd, who, given his familiarity and success in Josh McDaniels' system, projects to be the deep threat the Patriots have been looking for since they parted ways with Randy Moss.
Similarly, the Patriots have also brought in Donte' Stallworth, who was part of the record-setting 2007 team and was adept at picking up yards after catch. They even brought in Anthony Gonzalez, who, if he stays healthy, could contend for the "deep possession" role Branch currently fills.
That said, none of those receivers have the mental connection with Brady that Branch has, and that will be a big factor in deciding who makes the roster at wide receiver. As I noted in a previous B/R article, it's probably a 50-50 proposition right now as to whether Branch makes the roster. That will change, of course, once we find out the terms of his deal: the larger the signing bonus, the more likely he is to make the team.
For now, though, it can be said that bringing Branch into the fold for one more season is probably a good idea, but it doesn't remove the need for the Patriots to find some younger pieces at the position, likely through the draft.
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