Speculation has started that Deion Branch, 30 years old and recovering from knee surgery, will be one of several cuts made by Seattle in the next week or so.
The Seahawks added T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency and drafted Deon Butler in the third round of last April’s NFL Draft. So the aging, frail veteran is expendable, right?
Sure, it is true that the Seahawks have extraordinary competition and much more depth at wide receiver than they did last season. In fact, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said that this training camp and preseason have offered the “best competition at the receiving corps” that he has ever seen as a coach.
There are several young guys who have skills that won’t find a roster spot on the team. Not because they can’t play in the National Football League, but because the numbers are against them in Seattle.
Cutting an aging veteran who is injury-prone and costly could be one way of ensuring a roster spot for one of the promising prospects. This is where the speculation really gains momentum.
But would it really be wise to cut Deion Branch?
Deion Branch is scheduled to make just under $5 million this season, but cutting him would only create marginal salary-cap savings. The team doesn’t have much incentive to cut Branch as a cost-saving maneuver.
And although there are a lot of good prospects behind him on the depth chart, very few have proven themselves to be NFL-ready, yet. Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu, regarded by many as the two receivers who will make the cut behind the top four, have combined for sixteen receptions in the NFL. The other receivers – Mike Hass, Logan Payne, Jordan Kent, and Michael Bumpus – have combined for only seven regular season receptions.
None of the younger receivers, aside from Deon Butler, have stood out this preseason. There is no reason to believe that a Courtney Taylor is ready to step up and replace Deion Branch in the lineup. Better yet, there is no reason to believe that Kent, Bumpus, and others won’t clear waivers and find a spot on the practice squad.
Sure, Deion Branch is probably overpaid, given what his production has been on the field. And yeah, his durability is a concern. But when the guy is on the field, he produces.
A lot of fans still seem bitter about giving up a first-round draft pick for Branch in 2006, but it was the market value for a player of his caliber at the time the trade was made.
To add fuel to the fire, Branch has only played in 33 games in three seasons, often finding himself limited to the sidelines because of various injuries.
But if he can stay healthy, Deion Branch could be one of the more potent weapons in Seattle’s offense.
Last season, in the final four games after Branch returned from injury, he had 17 catches for 260 yards and four touchdowns. In 2007, before he was injured, he had two games against division rivals where he had over 100 yards receiving. Deion Branch can produce if he can stay healthy.
There is no reason for Seattle to spoil their depth at wide receiver. When healthy, Deion Branch is a proven playmaker. Cutting Branch would only create marginal salary-cap savings, and the depth behind him hasn’t proven to be up to par. He deserves at least one more year to prove himself on the field. And chances are, he’ll get one.