When Deion Branch came to Seattle for the 1st round pick (24th) in 2006, nobody seemed to mind.
The words, “Super Bowl MVP” just floated out of fans’ mouths, Tim Ruskell couldn’t wait to get his hands on, what seemed to be, a key component of the unstoppable New England Patriots’ offense, and Branch was equally excited to get paid after posting career numbers in receptions (78) yards (998) and touchdowns (5) in 2005. Fans collectively held their breathe and watched… knowing what was about to come… waiting for him to explode… any minute now…
Four seasons later, fans are no longer waiting. The only thing they have demanded as of late concerning Deion Branch is that he be traded or released. The Seahawks and their fans made a time honored mistake by giving too much credit where it had never been earned. They organization took a gamble on what looked to be the MAKINGS of an elite wide receiver only to wake up to the reality of the last four seasons.
Deion Branch has never been an elite wide receiver in the NFL. Not with New England and certainly not with Seattle.
Granted, Branch has had some big games when it counted. In 2 consecutive Super Bowls he caught 21 passes (3rd all time) for a total of 276 yards. And in his last game as a Patriot, a Divisional playoff loss to the Broncos, he racked up 153 yards. But if you look at his career statistics during the regular season, especially as a Seahawk, he starts to look a lot less spectacular:
Branch has never had a 1000 yard season.
Branch has never had more than 5 touchdowns in a single season.
Branch’s highest reception total for a season is 78. His next highest is 58.
Branch has only played in 33 of Seattle’s last 48 games.
The problem is that Seahawks fans thought they were getting a Franchise guy. They thought they were getting someone who was closer to Steve Largent than he was to Darrell Jackson. Unfortunately, Branch lost sight of Largent and fell right past Darrell Jackson into a pool of overpaid obscurity bearing the judgment and harsh criticism of the majority of Hawk fans.
Deion Branch is the classic Ruskell guy in that his personality and work ethic are off the charts. He’s the type of guy that will have the younger players over for dinner. He helps acclimate new players to life in Seattle. He has the biggest smile in the locker room, and he never misses anything regarding his job.
But when it came to his job, he never got any better.
Branch has been one of the most overpaid wide receivers in the NFL since coming to Seattle. The Patriots knew what they had in Branch: a hard working, intelligent, and well liked receiver who was capable of coming up huge from time to time in a big game, but by no means was he ever going to accumulate the type of seasons Randy Moss has put together since becoming a Patriot. New England decided to “Franchise” Branch, even though he was not a “Franchise” player, in hopes that some other sucker in the NFL would give him a nibble.
Tim Ruskell swallowed the whole hook signing Branch to a contract which has paid him over 27 million concluding the 2009 season.
At this point, the expectations placed on Branch changed immensely. Fans looked at the contract before they looked at the statistics. They looked at his contract after each of his many injuries. Regardless of any reason Branch did not perform on a given week, fans pointed to the contract.
One of my all-time favorite wide receivers in Seahawk history will always be Bobby Engram. He had big moments in big games. He seemed to be the anchor for his position as well as his team at times. I hated to see him go, but understand why he is gone. In more ways than one, Engram may be a window into how New England fans felt about Branch. Two players with similar salaries always giving us just a little bit mor than we payed them for.
That all changed for Branch from the minute he and his salary arrived in Seattle. Seahawk fans would never be allowed the luxury of taking him for granted.
I looked up statistics on both players. In Engrams case, I only used his 8 years in Seattle. In Branch’s case, I averaged his career numbers (8), as well as his numbers in Seattle (4) and New England (4).
Engram vs. Branch
49 receptions per year
623 yards per year
3.5 touchdowns per year
53 receptions per year
686 yards per year
3.5 touchdowns per year
Total Salary: 2.64 million
44 receptions per year
558 yards per year
3.5 touchdowns per year
Total Salary: 27.46 million
50 receptions per year
607 yards per year
2.25 touchdowns per year
Total salary: 10.01 million
* it is important to note that Engram’s total salary is over the course of 8 years while Branch’s is over 4 years. In other words, a more fair comparison would involve cutting Engram’s Total salary down to 5.05 million.
There is absolutely no way Branch could ever give as much as Bobby Engram did to the Seahawks at this point in his career. The hole many fans have thrown Deion into is a dark cavernous place where expectations go to die. If you listen closely enough, one can sometimes hear the occasional scream from the likes of Dan McGwire, Lamar King, or Marcus Tubbs.
Although the chance for Branch to earn his money has passed, the chance for him to earn the respect of his fans, teammates, and organization may still hang in the balance. Branch is suited best for the slot position, especially when considering his height, 5′ 9“. His experience will be more important than his athletic ability, and he just looks a lot better when matched up against a nickel corner (For the Seahawks that would be Kelly Jennings) than a team’s number one. (Marcus Trufant).
I find myself waiting for Deion Branch one more time this season, however, my expectations have evaporated into one last mist of hope. I don’t expect 1000 yards, but I am hoping for a dependable 1st down target. I don’t expect 10 touchdowns anymore, but I sure hope he can stay healthy.
Will he ever earn the money he received? No.
Will he be more succesful in his new role? Yes
Will he have enough time to untangle a portion of his relationship with Seahawk fans?