After a ugly situation in New England regarding the status and contract of wide receiver Deion Branch, the New England Patriots traded their disgruntled receiver to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a first-round draft choice during 2007.
According to ESPN.com, the Seahawks previously worked out a financial agreement with Branch on a six-year, $39 million deal that would have paid him $13 million in combined bonuses and about $23 million over the first three years of the deal.
The Seahawks' need for Branch comes due to some questions at the receiver position, as wide receiver Darrell Jackson has been troubled by an ongoing knee injury, which required additional surgery earlier this year and limited him most of training camp. Tight end Jerramy Stevens (knee) also had surgery during training camp and may not return until October. While Jackson played during Week 1, catching five passes for 47 yards, the team clearly felt the need to upgrade the position.
Branch (5-9, 193) will now have to adjust to the Seahawks' West Coast offense. He's coming off of a career-best season in receptions (78), yards (998) and touchdowns (5), but it was also the first time in his career he made it a full 16-game season. Where he falls into the pecking order amongst Jackson, offseason acquisition Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett will likely be dictated by how quickly he's able to absorb the offense and build a rapport with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
The addition of Branch could make one of the team's receivers expendable, possibly via trade to another team or an outright release. Provided Jackson's knee holds up and the Seahawks hold onto their receivers, they arguably have the deepest receiving corps in the NFL now.
As for the Patriots, the addition of a first-round pick next season will be welcomed, but the loss of Branch will be a huge void to fill. The recent addition of Doug Gabriel from the Oakland Raiders has yet to pay any dividends, as he was inactive during Week 1, and his late arrival means it's going to take time to learn the system. Needless to say, when your top-three wideouts are Troy Brown, Reche Caldwell and Brandon Childress your depth is questionable to say the least. Rookie Chad Jackson, a second-round draft choice, has talent, but a hamstring injury sidelined him most of the summer and led to him being inactive during Week 1, too.
According to a source close to the situation, with the addition of another first-round draft choice next year, the Patriots could begin to dangle that pick to other teams to see what they may be able to obtain in return. All things considered, the pick obtained from the Seahawks should be in the latter portion of the first round next year barring a meltdown on the field this season. On the flipside, the Patriots love to stockpile draft picks so they may just keep their eye on the waiver wire and hold onto the pick while planning for next year.
From a fantasy standpoint, be prepared to devalue Jackson, Burleson and Engram. While their value won't be determined until Branch finds his role with the squad, it's quite possible each of them will have lesser value than what they had entering the season. Hackett, at this time, should not be on your fantasy roster. Branch is going to swipe production from the top three on the roster, as you don't pay a player $23 million over three years and not force him into the lineup as quickly as possible.
Consider Branch a No. 3 fantasy receiver with upside potential; however, the upside will clearly be based on how quickly he's able to pick up the West Coast scheme, gel with Hasselbeck and find his true role within the offense. This is definitely an intriguing situation, as it's not clear if Seattle acquired him due to worry over Jackson's knee, due to Burleson being new to the offense or simply because they saw an extreme amount of value in him.