Patriots Cut Deion Branch; What's Next for New England at Wide Receiver?

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IAugust 31, 2012

One is the loneliest number...
One is the loneliest number...Michael Heiman/Getty Images

It's official: No one is safe on cutdown day.

Not even Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, who had been a rock-solid presence for the Patriots over the past two seasons, and whose rapport with quarterback Tom Brady was off the charts.

another big one: league source says Pats have cut Deion Branch

— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) August 31, 2012

What was once considered a logjam at wide receiver now flows a bit more smoothly. The Patriots' current band of wide receivers consists of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jeremy Ebert, Kerry Taylor, Jesse Holley, Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman.

Welker and Lloyd are roster locks. Edelman and Slater have special teams value that makes them as close to locks as it gets.

The cutting of Branch could also indicate heightened confidence in Edelman's ability to contribute on offense. He has been lost in the mix over the first few years of his NFL career, but presents a skill set that is similar to Branch's and is seven years his junior.

That seems to leave one open spot.

The Patriots picked up Taylor off waivers the day before their final preseason game. He has made the rounds from one practice squad to another, with the Packers last year and the Vikings earlier this summer. He appears bound for New England's practice squad as well.

Ebert was originally considered a candidate for the practice squad, but the opening left by Branch could make way for him on the 53-man roster. He has seen limited action in the preseason, hauling in six receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown in four games. He piqued New England's interest on draft day with his short-area quickness (6.7 seconds in the three-cone drill at Northwestern's pro day, per, which was once one of the skills that made Branch a valuable asset on the roster.

But it will be hard to replicate the kind of reliability and chemistry that had developed between Brady and Branch.

That is, unless the team is contemplating a reunion with recently released wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. 

With the new rules in the CBA stating that a player's contract is guaranteed if he's on the Week 1 roster, there is always speculation that veterans are being released under the knowledge that they will be back later on. That could be the case with either Gaffney or Branch.

We just don't know. 

What we do know is that the Patriots' wide receiver position looks nowhere near as loaded as it did when the team entered camp just over a month ago.

Will their offense suffer for it? 

With Brady throwing the ball, they should be alright. He still has Welker, as well as tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and although Hernandez is more of a wide receiver in how he is used on the field, Branch provided a security blanket that could be hard to replace in big situations.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.