FOXBORO, Mass. — When the Indianapolis Colts announced they had signed Deion Branch on Monday, eyebrows were raised across New England.
The veteran wide receiver had gone unsigned all season by the rest of the NFL, even when it seemed the New England Patriots desperately needed depth at the position. It seemed fishy that the Colts were bringing in the former Patriots wideout just five days before their divisional round matchup together.
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said there was nothing nefarious about the signing, and that the team’s decision to sign Branch had nothing to do with his time spent with New England.
“No, not at all,” Pagano said. “We had worked out Deion three or four weeks ago. [General manager Ryan Grigson] and his staff bring in guys every week to work out and have guys that you know about and give physicals to in case you have an injury here or there. We were a little bit short at the wide receiver position and we had worked out Deion. He came in and had a great workout for us. He was in shape, he’s local, he’s right in our back yard. We knew about him and knew where he was from a physical standpoint. Any decision we make is based on two things: what’s best for the team and what helps us win. I felt like we got a guy who’s a former Super Bowl MVP who’s played a lot of good football at a high level.”
It’s debatable how much intel Branch could give the Colts on the Patriots’ offense at this point. Obviously he knows quarterback Tom Brady as well as any player in the league, but the offense has changed a lot since the 2012 season.
Players in the New England locker room avoided questions about how much coaches press them about game plan and scheme when facing their former teams. The Patriots signed linebacker Chris White prior to their Week 1 matchup against his former team, the Buffalo Bills. White changed the subject when first broached about how much he could help coaches prepare for the Bills going into Week 1.
“No, they pretty much do their work,” White said when the question was followed up. “As players, we just worry about playing and that’s it.”
Patriots players don’t seem too bothered by the fact that they will be facing their former teammate. Safety Devin McCourty says he expects to play against Branch on Saturday.
“He’s on the roster,” McCourty said. “So I don’t see a reason not to see him out there.”
Brady didn’t address the issue head on. He wouldn’t say whether he’s talked to Branch since his former wide receiver was signed by the opposition.
“Yeah I think that they did that this week,” Brady said about the signing. “As for our defenses, I’m going to worry about all those guys and prepare for all those guys and that’s part of guys changing teams and so forth. It’s nice to see a guys get an opportunity, especially one of your great friends.”
Head coach Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for Branch.
“Very smart, professional player,” Belichick said about Branch. “Great leader. One of the top guys we’ve had here in terms of off the field work ethic, leadership, intelligence, preparation, all those things. He had some very productive seasons here. He’s a tremendous person. He’s had a great career.”
If there’s anything the Colts can glean from Branch about the Patriots’ offense, they’ll likely try to do so. But the last time Branch was taking snaps with New England, they still had Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker on the field.