After being a last-minute cut during roster trim downs on
August 31, Branch's locker in the Patriots locker room has remained in tact
with the expectation being that he'd find his way back onto the roster. Well,
on Wednesday, he did just that.
Unlike Kellen Winslow, who will have to pick up the
offensive system on the fly after agreeing to a one-year deal on Tuesday,
Branch is already familiar with Tom Brady and the Patriots' system.
Brady admitted that he's excited about Branch's return on
Wednesday, even explaining that he was hoping this move would come.
"I was hoping that would happen," Brady said of
Branch re-signing. "Deion has just been a great player here
for a long time, so it’s always great to see him back."
Branch's knowledge of the offense and existing chemistry
with Brady should make for a smooth transition and allow him to have an impact
out on the field come Sunday night, just like his initial return back in 2010.
Coming back in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, Branch
returned ahead of the Patriots' meeting with the Ravens that year, too. The
receiver started things off with a bang, catching nine passes for 98 yards and
a key touchdown in the 23-20 overtime win.
The Patriots are hoping for similar results this time
around, but are more so looking for the receiver to have a season-long impact on
The Patriots passing attack struggled against a stingy
Cardinals secondary last week, scoring just 18 points and finding the end zone
once in the loss. While Aaron Hernandez's first quarter exit with an ankle
sprain definitely played a role in the inconsistency, it seemed that there was
still more to be desired on the outside.
At 34 years old, Branch may not be the same spry speedster who
won the Super Bowl XXXIX MVP more than seven years ago. But, coming off a
51-catch, five-touchdown season in 2011, he still has the skills to serve an
important role in Josh McDaniels' offense.
Branch is about as sure-handed a receiver as they come,
catching nearly everything that Brady has ever thrown his way — forgiving that
Super Bowl drop, of course. He also runs routes as well as almost any other
receiver in the NFL, consistently finding space over the middle and along the
outside. His presence alone will force defenses to adjust their coverages,
likely drawing double coverage away from Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and some of
the Patriots' other weapons.
Speaking of, much has been made about Welker's limited snaps
over the past two weeks, including the loss of his starting job to Julian
Edelman last Sunday. But the reality is that Branch won't have any significant
impact on Welker's time on the field. Branch plays along the outside and excels
when utilizing the sidelines to his advantage, meanwhile Welker is best served
in the slot and works well out in space. If anything, Edelman's play count will
be cut, not Welker's, as Branch should usurp most of Edelman's snaps in three-receiver
Branch's addition brings not only depth to the Patriots offense,
but he also helps enhance a middling passing attack. With Welker, Brandon Lloyd,
Gronkowski and now Winslow already in tow, the Patriots have plenty of options in
the passing game. But Brady should find comfort in knowing that Branch will be
lining up on the outside and that those sure hands will be awaiting anything
thrown in their direction.