Deion Branch willing to rework contract
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wide receiver Deion Branch was back at practice with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, saying he was "very thankful " to return to New England after four years in Seattle and feels "like I'm back home."
"First of all, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank God for the opportunity to come back and be a part of a great organization, and also be a part of another great organization in Seattle," Branch said during a news conference Tuesday. "Unfortunately things didn't work, but that's part of the business."
The wide receiver drafted by the Patriots in 2002 passed his physical in the morning after being traded by the Seattle Seahawks for a fourth-round draft pick. He was catching passes from Tom Brady and chatting with coach Bill Belichick at practice in the early afternoon. Four years earlier, New England had traded him to Seattle for a first-round pick after a dispute over his contract.
"No regrets. I wish it never happened, but no regrets," Branch said about the way he left New England the first time around. "When I left, there wasn't any issue between me and Coach Belichick. None at all. We talked during the course of the year, not a lot, but I spoke to him and I truly thanked him. We didn't leave on a bad note and I think that's why it was so easy to return, because we both understood what was going on."
The Patriots needed an experienced wide receiver after trading Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday, and they turned to Branch. Despite the fact that Branch is filling the roster void created by the loss of Moss and is even taking Moss' old locker, adjacent to Tom Brady's, Branch stressed that he was "not here to replace Randy."
"I'm not Randy Moss," Branch said. "I wasn't Randy Moss when I was here. I'm not here to replace him. My job is to go out and do what the offense asks me to do, and that's what I'm going to do."
Branch, who is earning a base salary of $5.47 million this season and is due $5.95 million in 2011, said he was willing to rework his contract, which was likely a key consideration for New England to make the trade.
"There are a couple things that are probably going to be talked about," Branch said. "There will be dealings between my agent and the organization, but I'm willing to make things work."
Branch will wear No. 84 for the Patriots this time around. His No. 83 from his first stint with the team is taken by Wes Welker.
"Wes came in, did a great job," Branch said with one of the many wide smiles he flashed throughout his 10-minute news conference. "I'm just going to get one [number] higher than his because I'm taller than him."
At 5-foot-9, Branch doesn't exactly tower over Welker. And with Julian Edelman, listed at 5-10, three of the Patriots' top four receivers are small.
From 2002 to 2005, Branch was one of Brady's favorite targets. He was also MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl and caught 213 passes in 53 regular-season games.
"Seeing how a lot has changed in the locker room from the time I left to now, but still seeing guys like Kevin Faulk put a smile on my face," Branch said. "Matt Light. Dan Koppen. Always Tom [Brady]. Seeing veteran guys like [Ty] Warren, Fred Taylor, these guys want to win, and I'm just very thankful to be here."
Koppen is one of nine Patriots who played with Branch during Branch's first tenure with the team, and he was happy to welcome him back to town Tuesday.
"He made a lot of plays for us in big-time games," Koppen said. "You want those type of players on your team."
More from ESPNBoston.com
Both Deion Branch and the Patriots' attack are happy to be back where they began, and hopeful they can rekindle the old spark, Mike Reiss writes. Story
This week's Patriots mailbag is dominated by questions on Branch (welcome back!) and Randy Moss (see ya later). Mailbag
•Check out the Patriots blog
•Send Q's/comments to Reiss' mailbag
Koppen added that Branch is "a good guy to have in the locker room," while noting that Branch should have a head start in acclimating to the team's playbook because of his background with the club.
"I think he has a better start than probably bringing in a guy that hasn't been here," Koppen said. "He's been gone a few years and we've changed a few things, and it's one of those things where he has to get on the same page. It starts today."
Brady agreed that Branch had "a lot to catch up on."
"Deion is a very smart player. He's going to have his work cut out for him," Brady said Tuesday during his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. "There's a lot to catch up on. I wouldn't say things are exactly the way they were when he left. We've evolved quite a bit from that offense that we were running. Some of the things I'm sure are very familiar to him, but some of the things are very different as well. I'm sure there will be a pretty steep learning curve for him. Hopefully he gets up to speed as quickly as possible because we'll need him this week."
As for whether he thought he would play Sunday against the Ravens, Branch said, "I hope so. I hope I'm showing Coach Belichick enough today. I know there will be a little more tomorrow, and Thursday and Friday. He makes that decision."
While saying he did not lobby Belichick for Branch's return, Brady called Branch "the kind of player that you want."
"He's very much the same type of player that you've seen here over the years," Brady said. "The [Tedy] Bruschis, the [Mike] Vrabels, the [Willie] McGinests, the Ty Laws, those character guys that a guy like Deion is. Whenever those guys become available I'm sure that's the kind of player Coach Belichick jumps at."
One player who could be affected by the arrival of Branch is second-year receiver Edelman.
"I'm excited," Edelman said. "He's been here when they won Super Bowls. I'll be able to learn from another veteran, so I'm happy to have him."
Edelman watched film of Brady throwing to Branch in the offseason as part of his attempt to learn more about the receiver position, and how a pass-catcher develops a chemistry with Brady. He viewed Branch as a "phenomenal playmaker and a guy that you strive to try to be like, having the same stature."
Branch started three of Seattle's four games this season, catching 13 passes for 112 yards and one touchdown. He's been healthy after missing parts of the past three seasons with knee, hamstring and foot injuries. He caught 190 passes, 15 for touchdowns, with the Seahawks.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss was used in this report.