Many outsiders look back at the New England Patriots trade of wide receiver Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks as a win for the Patriots and loss for the Seahawks. Afterall, the Patriots acquired a first-round draft pick in exchange for a receiver who did very little to warrant his hefty contract from the Seahawks.
The Patriots traded Branch to the Seahawks in September of 2006 for a first round pick in the 2007 draft. Branch had been disgruntled at having to play out the fifth and final year of his rookie contract after having had an impressive four year career up to that point as a former second round pick that was highlighted by being named MVP of Super Bowl XXIX.
While his career accomplishments up to that point had been impressive, the fact of the matter is that he never had 1,000 yards receiving in any season and never had more than five receiving touchdowns in any of his first four years either. The Patriots turned out to be right in not wanting to make him one of the highest paid receivers in the league, as he never had a 1,000 yard season during his entire 12 year career and five receiving touchdowns in a season would match a career best, too.
As the sun seems to have faded in the career of Branch (he is a free agent who doesn’t seem wanted back in New England or anywhere else), it is a good time to go back and see how his loss affected the Patriots, as it well known that his addition didn’t do much good for the Seahawks.
The date was January 21 of 2007 and the Patriots had an 18-point lead against the Indianapolis Colts late in the second quarter in the AFC Championship game. It looked as if Tom Brady and company would coast to another Super Bowl and defeat a less than impressive, for Super Bowl standards, Chicago Bears team that had been led by Rex Grossman. Brady would match Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw with his fourth Super Bowl win as a starting quarterback.
It never happened and the Patriots not having Branch after having traded him earlier that season had a lot to do with their loss.
Somewhere between counting their chickens before they hatched, the Patriot receivers forgot how to catch the ball and costly drops down the stretch greatly enabled the Colts to come back and win the game. I remember watching that game and thinking how it was obviously clear that Brady really didn’t have a go-to receiver that he could get the ball to and how that directly affected the outcome of the game. Even if Branch wasn’t a 1,000-yard receiver, he was still Brady’s security blanked and someone the quarterback trusted.
After the loss to the Colts, the Patriots went out and brought in wide receivers on a grand scale that off-season. They acquired Wes Welker from the Miami Dophins for a second and seventh round draft picks. They gave Donte Stallworth a six-year contract for $30 million (although he was released after the season and never saw most of that money), and later made the famous trade with the Oakland Raiders to bring in Randy Moss for only a fourth round pick. Moss rewarded the Patriots with a season for the ages that was highlighted by 23 touchdown receptions. Bill Belichick realized his receivers cost his team the game and wasn’t going to let that happen again.
I realize that it was the defense that also gave up the points to Manning and the Colts but nobody can convince me that the Patriots would have lost if Brady had Branch to throw to in some of those key situations late in that game.
I am not saying that Brach deserved to be among the highest paid receivers in the NFL, but the fact of the matter, in my opinion, is that the Patriots would have beaten the Colts and then the Bears if they had Branch. Instead of a fourth Super Bowl win for Belichick and Brady, of which they are still search for to this day, all they had was the twenty-fourth overall pick in that coming draft that turned out to be a safety in Brandon Merriweather.
If Branch would have been playing for the Patriots in January of 2007 there would probably be an additional Lombardi Trophy in Foxboro.