Is Deion Branch Really Expendable for New England Patriots?

Kyle CormierContributor IIIJuly 5, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:   Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots talks with teammate Deion Branch #84 on the field prior to their AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

During this offseason, the Patriots acquired a notable group of wide receivers through free agency—though two have already been released in Anthony Gonzalez and Chad Ochocinco—and there is still competition to be had. With a player like Donté Stallworth or Britt Davis possibly making the roster, the question has been raised as to whether Deion Branch could be released.

51 receptions for 702 yards, and five touchdowns. Not earth-shattering numbers, but solid production nonetheless Branch gave the team in his first full season back. Branch does still have amazing chemistry with Tom Brady, something that allows him to produce at an NFL level even as his skills diminish.

It is not a coincidence Brady found Branch to convert a potential game-ending fourth down on the drive ending into a Rob Gronkowski near-touchdown in the waning moments of the Super Bowl.

The real question becomes whether or not Bill Belichick is willing to lose Branch again for the second time in seven years regardless of his relationship with their all-world quarterback. 

At this point, the only player who could make Branch expendable is Britt Davis. Stallworth, who is 32 like Branch, is not worth cutting in favor of the reliable Branch unless Stallworth far outplays him in training camp. A younger receiver though, such as Davis, could be worth hanging on to if he shows enough promise in camp.

Bill Belichick is on record saying Davis has been impressive thus far.

"I think he's adapted well, he's shown up well here and he's put himself in good position to go to training camp. We'll see how the competition goes there."

At the end of the day with Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney likely to start in three-receiver set, the team may feel it is necessary to have a fourth option that they know can be relied upon in case one of their top three goes down.

In the past the third spot has been a problem with players like Sam Aiken or Brandon Tate being asked to fill the role. Even just a year ago Ochocinco, and at times Tiquan Underwood, took the reigns in an underwhelming fashion.

A team like New England, with an offensive scheme like they have, needs all hands on deck at all times in the passing game. That being the case, the Patriots would be best to hang on to the Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Branch and have one of their best receiving corps in recent memory.