Branch not reporting to camp
Patriots receiver unhappy with offer
Deion Branch is feeling shortchanged by New England's latest offer. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)
FOXBOROUGH -- Barring a last-minute change, the Patriots will open training camp Friday without one of their most significant players for the second year in a row.
After mulling his options for several days, No. 1 wide receiver Deion Branch decided last night he will not report to camp despite facing a $14,000-per-day fine. A year ago, Richard Seymour sat out of camp until the Patriots agreed to bump up his contract by more than $1 million before making him one of the NFL's highest-paid defensive linemen this past offseason.
``Deion will not be in camp until he feels he's being treated fairly," said Branch's agent, Jason Chayut. Branch, who has a year remaining on his rookie contract, which was signed in 2002, has yet to comment publicly on his situation. He did not attend the team's mandatory minicamp and now says he won't be at the opening of training camp.
The Patriots made an offer to Branch in May they claim would have paid him an average of $6.25 million over three years or $5 million over four (2006-2009), but the deal was heavily backloaded, with more than $9 million of it coming in the final two seasons of the contract, at which time clubs often try to renegotiate. The signing bonus also was split over two years, unlike the $8 million bonus Branch's former teammate, David Givens, received this offseason from the Tennessee Titans, and the $13.5 million bonus paid to the Colts' No. 2 receiver, Reggie Wayne, as part of a six-year, $40 million deal. Branch believes the Wayne deal best reflects his value, but the Patriots, who argue Wayne has usurped Marvin Harrison as Indianapolis's No. 1 receiver, disagree.
If Branch plays out the final year of his contract, he would earn barely 20 percent of what Givens, who was drafted the same year on the seventh round, will earn this season in Tennessee. Branch is due $545,000 in salary and $500,000 for reaching an incentive bonus for yardage last season.
If Branch duplicates his career-best numbers of a year ago, when he led the club with 78 receptions and 998 receiving yards, his five-year totals would closely approximate Wayne's.
Playing in a more prolific passing offense (although one that has produced no Super Bowl appearances), Wayne has caught 304 passes for 4,164 yards and 28 touchdowns in five seasons.
If Branch duplicates his 2005 numbers, his five-year totals would fall 13 receptions short of Wayne's (291), 422 yards behind him (3,742), and nine scores in arrears (19).
Branch's totals were severely limited by his injury-shortened 2004 season, in which he played only nine games, catching 35 passes for 454 yards, and 4 scores.
That was the season in which he roared back after being inactive for seven weeks to win the Super Bowl MVP award with 11 catches for 133 yards against the Eagles. He ranks third all-time in Super Bowl career receptions with 21, trailing only Jerry Rice (33) and Andre Reed (27).
The Patriots believe their offer is reflective of the market but Branch believes he is being shortchanged, in part because the signing bonus is not lucrative enough and in part because the deal would effectively preclude him from being a beneficiary of free agency.
If he were playing well after the 2009 season and a new deal could not be reached, the team simply could franchise him. A year later he would be entering his 10th season, which is not when wide receivers often receive big paydays.
The Patriots waived defensive back Gemara Williams.
Williams, 23, was signed by the May 8 as a non-drafted rookie free agent from the University of Buffalo.
REISS'S PIECES For a look at position areas for the Patriots before training camp begins Friday, go to www.boston.com/sports/reiss.