Patriots' top receiver Branch not at mandatory camp
Apparently unhappy with his contract status, and at the pace of negotiations aimed at completing a long-term extension, New England Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch was a no-show on Tuesday as the team began a mandatory minicamp and plans to skip the entire three-day event.
New England Patriots
The team's leading receiver in 2005, and the most valuable player in New England's Super Bowl XXXIX victory, Branch is entering the final season of the original five-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2002. He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.045 million in 2006.
"I'm not going to talk about anybody who's not here," coach Bill Belichick said.
There have been discussions in the offseason about an extension, and New England officials have indicated that signing Branch to a new deal before he becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season is a priority, but the two sides are not close to an agreement.
Because he is under contract, Branch can be fined for his absences from the mandatory camp. Agent Jason Chayut on Tuesday morning declined comment.
New England lost its other starting wide receiver, David Givens, in free agency this spring when the four-year veteran signed with the Tennessee Titans. The Patriots signed veteran Reche Caldwell away from San Diego and chose Chad Jackson of Florida in the second round of the draft. But, clearly, Branch, who emerged over the past two seasons as Tom Brady's go-to receiver, is a player the Pats want to retain.
"Obviously, it's tough not having him here, but that's the business," Brady said. "That gives us a chance to really work on other things."
In 2005, Branch posted new career highs in appearances (16), starts (15), receptions (78), yards (998) and touchdown catches (five). For his career, the former Louisville standout has 213 catches for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns in 53 appearances, including 42 starts.
Branch, 26, has 21 catches in two Super Bowl appearances. In the Super Bowl XXXIX victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, he tied a title game record with 11 receptions for 133 yards. Branch was a second-round choice in the 2002 draft.
Last spring, defensive lineman Richard Seymour missed much of the offseason program and skipped the mandatory minicamp. The Patriots eventually upgraded his contract slightly for 2005 and then negotiated an extension with him this spring.
"Each situation is different. I'm not in Deion's situation now," Seymour said. "I always remained optimistic and hopeful that it would get done, but I can't speak for anybody else. Deion's a Super Bowl MVP who has been making big plays for us ever since he's been here."
Branch's absence left 34-year-old Troy Brown and Caldwell as the top experienced wide receivers at Tuesday's practice.
"I don't hold any grudges against him for not being here," Brown said of Branch. "That's between him and the team."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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