Wednesday, September 13, 2006

First and 10: What's the catch?

First and 10 while wondering if Tom Brady is pissed about the Branch deal . . .

1. I'm having a tough time coming to a logical conclusion regarding the Deion Branch soap opera, in part because the whole damn thing is so illogical. I don't understand why Branch and his agent never offered a counterproposal to the Patriots' two perfectly reasonable offers . . . unless Branch simply wanted to get the hell out of the organization. And if that's the case . . . why? He was playing with the best QB in the league on a championship-contending team, one set up well for the present and the future. There aren't many better situations in the league, so why was he so willing to smile, shrug, and napalm the friggin' bridge? And while Seattle gave him one more year and slightly more money than the Patriots' best offer, he has to know he's one torn ACL away from never seeing the end of that contract, that a long-term NFL deal isn't worth the paper it's printed on. And on the other side of the negotiating table, why did the Patriots ultimately "give in" and give him what he supposedly wanted? Do they really think they can win with a foursome of Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Clarence Weathers, and Carlos Pennywell at receiver? Do they think Branch, small and daring to the point of disregard for his body, has a short shelf-life? Do they think the first-round pick is better than fair value? Did they believe he'd hold out until Week 10 and that they'd might as well get something for him now? Are they so arrogant as to believe that Tom Brady, Richard Seymour and 51 Ordinary Joes would form a productive roster in their system? I desperately want answers, not that I'm expecting any: Belichick offered no insight today (there's a news flash) and Branch handled himself with class during his introductory press conference in Seattle. So I guess, until the truth and real motivations eventually leak into the newspapers, I'll have to settle for these few things I do know:

• Anyone who bashes Branch's ability is a fool. I've been hearing people (okay, mostly 'EEI mouthbreathers) claim his hands were questionable, he wasn't really an elite receiver, that he was injury-prone . . . and you know what? It's complete and total b.s., nothing more than the ignorant rantings of scorned nitwits. He was a fantastic player for the Patriots, one who rose to the occasion in the biggest moments (21 catches and one MVP in two Super Bowls, the game-opening 50-yard warning shot at Heinz Field in '04), a selfless teammate who put winning first (he was in tears at the end of the Denver playoff loss), and he was much tougher and more fearless than any sane receiver his size should dare to be. Deion Branch was everything we'd want a Patriot, while his departure was ugly, it's too bad he's not still one of ours. I'll miss him.

• It was shameful when Ty Law, for a long time the highest-paid DB in the NFL, bitched that he needed a new contract so he could feed his family. But when Branch says he needs to money to "take care of [his] kids," well, as a father myself and one who can't imagine what he has gone through, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

• Getting ahead of myself here, but . . . a Pats-Seahawks Super Bowl would be something, wouldn't it?

2. I'd be an idiot to question Scott Pioli's team-building methods, but I must admit I do wonder why the Patriots don't try to sign their young, talented free-agents-to-be a year or two before they test the market. I'm fairly certain David Givens would still be here - and at a considerably lower hourly rate than he got from Tennessee - had he been offered a contract a year or two ago, and I fret that upcoming free agents Eugene Wilson, Daniel Graham, and Dan Koppen will be the next to get an offer from elsewhere that they can't refuse. It seems to me that once a player proves he is going to be the player you hoped he's be when you drafted him - or even exceed those expectations - it would save a lot of drama and maybe even a few dollars to renegotiate his first contract before it expires. The only downside, so far as I can tell, is the fear of signing someone long-term, then losing them to injury, but that strikes me as a risk worth taking.

3. One of the many benefits of having Rodney Harrison back is that Eugene Wilson also is back, if you follow. After Harrison blew out his knee in Pittsburgh and was lost for the rest of the '05 season, Wilson had to take on so much more responsibility. While he played adequately, he was no longer Eugene the Hitting Machine, the apparent budding star who thrived in Harrison's shadow. With Harrison back directing traffic, calling signals, and relieving Wilson of the burdens that weighed him down late last year, here's hoping he finds that ol' ball-hawking, Riddell-cracking form. I missed him almost as much as I missed Harrison.

4. From the midpoint of last season through this Sunday, Rosey Colvin has been exactly what the Patriots thought they were getting when they signed him to a rich free-agent deal before the 2003 season: a tireless, smart, havoc-wreaking, pass rusher. So this is what he looked like before he busted up his hip.

5. As talented as he is, it's a bit much to expect Ben Watson to make up for the lost production of Branch or Givens - let's see him catch more than four balls in a game before we send him off to Canton, okay, fellas? (Holy crap, I think I just channeled Parcells there.) However, I'm not saying I expect the Patriots offense to shrivel even though they lack a proven starting receiver. From what I saw of Laurence Maroney and a healthy and determined Corey Dillon Sunday, the Patriots are going to run the football with more effectiveness, authori-TAY, and balance than we've seen around here since the "New England, the Patriots, and We" heyday of Craig James and Tony Collins.

6. I'm curious if there's anything to the thinly-sourced rumors that the Patriots might be interested in disgruntled Raiders receiver Jerry Porter. His stats last season were remarkably similar to Branch's, but he seems considerably less graceful off the field than he is on it. Porter, already inactive, allegedly behaved like a jackass in the closing moments of their embarrassing loss to the Chargers, laughing as Aaron Brooks was sacked for something like the 37th time. The Patriots aren't afraid to take a flyer on talented so-called malcontents - Dillon and Bryan Cox come to mind - but Porter's apparent open disrespect for his coach and his team might convinced them he's not worth the time.

7. If Ellis Hobbs plays the rest of the season the way he played Sunday, he can start making plans to jet to Hawaii the week after the Super Bowl. He made the dangerous Lee Evans disappear like . . . (let's see, a Linda Evans joke would be lame here . . . so would a Copperfield/magician joke . . . god, I crack myself up . . . okay, play it straight . . . thinking of a lousy receiver now ) . . . um, Reche Caldwell.

8. My apologies to LaMont Jordan, but every time I see No. 34 take a handoff for the silver and black, I immediately begin having Bo Jackson flashbacks. (Too much Tecmo Bowl in my formative years, probably.) I can't imagine what effect this must have on Brian Bosworth - he must go all fetal and weepy every single time No. 34 gets the rock.

9. From the Damning With Faint Praise Dept.: Junior Seau has already made me forget all about Monty Beisel. Yup, faint praise. Now if he'd just quit jumping on every pile and acting like he made the initial hit, I might be cool with one of my favorite enemies being a Patriot and having the temerity to wear Willie Mac's digits. (I know, Seau had 'em first at 'SC, blah, blah. Hey, I'm wearing a 55 Pats jersey as I write this, and it ain't a Seau shirt, you dig? Could be a Don Blackmon, though.)

10. As for today's Completely Random Football Card:

I rarely give ESPN much credit in this space - as the alleged worldwide leader, you'd think they could do better than the likes of Skip Bayless and DJ Boo-Yeah, among many other irritants - but they deserve an attaboy for having the foresight to add Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil to their second Monday Night Football crew. I thought they were downright terrific during the Chargers-Raiders clunker. And in a major upset, Vermeil made it through the telecast without once bursting into tears.

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