NFL.com is reporting that the Oakland Raiders have agreed to a new four-year deal with premier safety Tyvon Branch. The contract is said to be worth $26.6 million, with $17.1 million in guaranteed money.
Retaining Branch for the long term is a smart move by the Raiders' new regime, as rookie head coach Dennis Allen will need the versatile safety to make his multiple defensive schemes work. Branch has been outstanding during the last three seasons, emerging as a true playmaker at his position.
The 6'0", 210-pounder is a force around the line of scrimmage. He is stout in run support and possesses excellent blitz skills. In 2010, under the tutelage of then-defensive coordinator John Marshall, Branch was a crucial part of the Raiders' blitz packages.
Allen can make similar use of the 25-year-old as the Raiders move to a more attack-minded and diverse defensive scheme than the one run by Chuck Bresnahan in 2011. By moving to secure Branch, who was already under a franchise tag, the Raiders acknowledged the increasing importance of dynamic safeties in today's NFL.
With more tight ends and running backs being able to create mismatches in pass coverage, defenses need safeties big and fast enough to handle these versatile athletes. Safeties have now become more valuable to a defense than linebackers because of their superior coverage skills against spread formations.
In an AFC West featuring the likes of Antonio Gates, Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki, the Raiders will need Branch's diverse skill set. He has the ability to act as a de facto linebacker in nickel and dime alignments and is the kind of joker in the pack Allen can use to create some matchup problems of his own.
With Branch in the fold, new general manager Reggie McKenzie has secured the future of one of the Raiders' brightest young stars and an essential piece of their defense.