Deion Branch Returns to Patriots After Robert Kraft Expresses Desire to Retain Both Him and Dan Koppen

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Deion Branch Returns to Patriots After Robert Kraft Expresses Desire to Retain Both Him and Dan KoppenFOXBORO, Mass. — It only seemed like a matter of time before the Patriots and wide receiver Deion Branch ironed out a contract to remain together in 2012, and it finally happened Thursday. 

Coincidentally, or not, the news of the deal came down about an hour after Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed his desire to retain Branch.

“I truly hope that Deion Branch remains with the team,” Kraft said at a Camp Sunshine community event at Gillette Stadium. “He’s also been one of my favorite guys. I was sorry to see him leave [in 2006], and I hope [center] Dan Koppen winds up on the team as well.”

Branch returns to a group of wide receivers that got a lot more crowded since the end of the 2011 season. Wes Welker received the franchise tag, and the Patriots also still have Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood and Britt Davis, who was on the practice squad. And New England has signed free agents Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth. From a standpoint of sheer numbers, at least three of those players won’t be on the roster in September, barring injuries.

Koppen might have a different fate than Branch, though. The Patriots re-signed Dan Connolly to a three-year deal with base salaries totaling $6.5 million plus bonuses and incentives, which is starting money. They’ve also got Nick McDonald and Ryan Wendell on the roster, and both started at center during the 2011 season.

Koppen has had a good nine-year run with the Patriots, but it doesn’t appear realistic that he’ll return for a 10th season. The Patriots didn’t pay Connolly that much money to be a backup — unless right guard Brian Waters retires, which doesn’t look like it will be the case — and Koppen has performed well enough throughout his career to find a starting job.

One of Kraft’s wishes was granted Thursday. The other will be more complex.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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