FOXBOROUGH — When Deion Branch was cut by the Patriots Aug. 31, any personal disappointment he harbored was temporarily replaced by an even greater worry: How to tell his children.
He chose not to break the news right away, searching for the right approach at the appropriate moment. When he finally disclosed what had happened, their reaction caught Branch by surprise.
“I said, ‘Kids, Daddy got released. I’m no longer playing with the Patriots.’ They said, ‘Yes! Are we going back to Seattle?’ ” Branch said. “It’s like the kids don’t even have a clue, they just know where all their friends are.”
The Seahawks must not have been one of the teams that asked about Branch’s services since he was released, because the decision he made — re-signing with the Patriots, a move that the team officially announced Wednesday — had as much to do with family as it did football. If not more.
“Family is more important,” said Branch. “My wife and my kids, school just started, there’s a lot of stuff going on. There’s a lot of things that factor into your decision. You’ve got to make sure you make the right decision for your family.”
The Patriots are confident that bringing Branch back is the right decision for their family. With tight end Aaron Hernandez likely out weeks because of an ankle injury, re-signing Branch and signing tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (also announced Wednesday) gives the Patriots two players who have combined for 939 receptions, 11,335 yards, and 62 touchdowns.
Both have the experience of producing in the NFL. In Branch’s case, much of that has been here: He has spent five full seasons, and part of a sixth, with the Patriots. Now it will be seven.
The Patriots must have known this possibility existed: In the 19 days between Branch getting a pink slip and appearing again in uniform, his locker next to Tom Brady’s wasn’t touched. Clothes and helmet still hanging, his name still at the top.
It was almost as if the Patriots knew Branch would be back in the mix, they just didn’t know exactly when.
“I had heard that, we spoke about those things, but you never know,” Branch said. “You can’t assume anything in this league.”
He had chances to go elsewhere but said the teams that came calling “just didn’t suit me.” A veteran of 10 NFL seasons, Branch knows what a good fit looks and feels like. Maybe he would have returned here even if Hernandez didn’t get injured.
Aside from a few new plays and getting back into football condition, Branch should be able to pick up right where he left off last month, starting with Sunday night’s game at Baltimore, a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship.
“That’s the goal,” Branch said. “I’m sure it’s what the coaches are expecting out of me, and that’s what I’m going to deliver.”
Brady was optimistic that Branch would return.
“Deion has just been a great player here for a long time,” Brady said. “So it’s always great to see him back. I was hoping it would happen. There’s just a lot of stability that, you know, he’s that kind of player — dependable, consistent. We’ll see what kind of role he plays.”
Branch played the role of spectator during the Patriots’ first two games. Actually, partial spectator.
He tuned in for the opener at Tennessee, but caught only the second half of Sunday’s loss to Arizona. You know, family obligations.
“When you have kids, there’s not too much free time,” Branch said.
What role he’ll serve going forward is up in the air. The Patriots’ passing offense has been in the news the first two weeks, with Hernandez’s injury and Wes Welker’s snap count dominating the headlines.
Branch will certainly bring some familiarity to Brady and the offense. Does he expect to get thrown into the mix right away?
“That all depends on the game plan,” Branch said. “I’ll do whatever the coaches have for me, whether that’s special teams, offense, defense.”
“Everything except the defensive line.”
In some ways, it doesn’t even feel like Branch left. He attended Troy Brown’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction Saturday, has been in town more than out of town, and now finds himself back on the team that selected him with the final pick of the second round in the 2002 draft.
Seattle might have been the destination that his children preferred. But Branch, thinking mostly of them, knew the best choice was staying in New England. The only thing missing was the phone call. That finally came Tuesday.
“There was a lot of interest out there, so that part I knew,” Branch said. “There were plenty of teams that were interested in you. But are you interested in going and playing for those teams?
“Those are things that I had to answer, that’s the stuff that I was truly battling with. Am I ready to uproot my family and move here to go and play for this team? There’s a lot of things that go into play in making certain decisions.
“It’s important for me to understand my kids’ feelings, to know that they’re growing. It’s hard to move your kids.
"When you’re grown, we can adapt to a certain environment, but when your kids go to different schools, they’ve got to make new friends, and that takes a little while. I took that into consideration a lot, knowing my kids’ feelings.
“They’re very charming and open-hearted kids, they love being around people, and the last thing I wanted to do was put them in an environment they didn’t want to be in.”