My dad has been in my ear for years now about when NFL teams sign useless players off the street for the sole purpose of picking their brains about a team they had spent extensive time with. So when the news broke that the Indianapolis Colts had signed former New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, he flipped out. You would have thought the Colts had broken into his house and slapped him in the face.
It may not be that bad, but it is still a little underhanded that a team would sign a guy they clearly have no intention of actually using on the field just so that the coaches and players can sit him in a room and debrief him on how to slow down Tom Brady and the New England offense. Branch spent many years in New England and has intimate knowledge of how the offense works. For him to go to their playoff opponent mere days before the biggest game of the year just can’t have any other logical reason.
The practice isn’t anything new. We see it all the time with practice-squad type players who are released at the end of training camp just to end up being signed by a team that will face their former employer in the upcoming weeks. The league shouldn’t allow the practice, especially in an era where strategy is so important to the outcome of games.
Teams should be able to sign whoever they want, and to make a rule that would stop the signing of former players from their upcoming opponents would cause more headaches than it would solve. But it doesn’t help stop the hurt when a popular former player from your team finds themselves on your next opponents’ roster days before you face them.
Branch will always have a place in the hearts of Patriots fans. He helped the team win championships and was one of the more beloved players in the Bill Belichick era. But if the Colts don’t actually use him this week, he will forever be tainted by the time he turned his back on his former team.