Pats turn down trades; Branch filing grievance
New England Patriots
In fact, the parties' stances might have grown more contentious Friday, with sources confirming that Branch and agent Jason Chayut have filed a grievance against the Patriots through the NFL Players Association. In the grievance, filed after the 4 p.m. Friday deadline passed without a trade, Branch is seeking an expeditious hearing in front of a "special master" arbitrator.
Richard Berthelsen, lawyer for the union, said the grievance alleges that the Patriots "reneged" on an agreement to trade their best receiver.
Chayut is apparently prepared to argue that trade offers made by the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks were appropriate and of a fair market value, given recent deals involving other NFL wide receivers.
ESPN.com's Michael Smith reported that the Jets offered a second-round draft choice for Branch.
The Patriots issued a two-sentence statement Friday that read, "No trade has been consummated. Deion Branch remains under contract to the New England Patriots." The team had no comment on the grievance.
In a conference call, Patriots coach Bill Belichick refused several times to expand on the team's statement.
"I'll let that speak for itself," he said. Belichick had similar responses when asked to comment on the grievance, if the team deadline was final and whether the team was still trying to trade Branch.
Branch had earlier reached agreements with the Seahawks and Jets on what ESPN.com has learned was a six-year, $39 million contract. The contract included a combined $13 million in guaranteed signing and option bonuses. Under the contract, Branch would have earned nearly $23 million in the first three years of the deal.
Jets coach Eric Mangini refused to discuss any potential deal.
"All the trades that we work on, the specifics of those trades we keep internal," Mangini said after the Jets' exhibition win over Philadelphia.
Of course, the contract agreements with the Seahawks and Jets are essentially rendered moot now.
Smith reported Monday that, according to several league sources, the Patriots were seeking two first-round draft choices for Branch. Other league sources told ESPN.com that New England might have considered dealing Branch for first- and middle-round choices. It is thought the teams involved did not offer New England more than a second-round draft pick and that the Patriots did not come close to making a deal.
Who takes the next step toward a possible reconciliation, with the sides seemingly at an impasse, remains to be seen.
People close to Branch insist he will not crack and will report to the Patriots for only the final six games of the season, enough to earn an accrued year toward the pension, and to qualify him for unrestricted free agency next spring.
Although last week's move by the Patriots was surprising, it also reflected the state of discussions between the sides. There has been virtually no meaningful dialogue for weeks and Branch, the team's leading receiver in 2005, remains out of camp and is being fined $14,000 a day during his absence.
It is thought that, at some point in the offseason, the Patriots offered two extension proposals: a three-year deal worth $18.75 million with $8 million of that guaranteed, and a five-year extension at $31 million, with $11 million in bonuses.
Branch, 27, is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.05 million in 2006, the final season of the five-year contract he signed as a second-round choice in the 2002 draft. And the base salary is only that high because Branch performed well enough to trigger an "escalator" in the contract that raised his compensation by $500,000.
Team officials indicated as far back as March that securing an extension with Branch was a priority, but the sides have been unable to strike a deal and talks seem at a dead end.
Branch is coming off a career year in which he had 78 receptions for 998 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, Branch has 213 catches for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has appeared in 53 games and logged 42 starts. He earned most valuable player honors in Super Bowl XXXIX when he tied a title game record with 11 receptions, netting 133 yards.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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