Following five days of rumblings of a potential trade back to New England, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2002, the Seahawks confirmed Branch had been shipped to the Patriots for a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft.
The Patriots were seeking veteran depth at receiver after trading Randy Moss to Minnesota. With Branch, the Patriots get back their Super Bowl XXXIX MVP, an experienced hand and a favorite of quarterback Tom Brady who knows the nuances of the team’s offense.
The 31-year-old was Seattle’s second-leading receiver this season with 13 catches for 122 yards and one touchdown. However, during his tenure with the Seahawks, Branch never emerged as the No. 1 receiver the team envisioned when it traded a first-round pick to New England in September of 2006.
Instead, Seattle got an injury-plagued receiver who struggled to stay on the field. Branch never played a full 16-game season, missing 19 of 66 games with an assortment of injuries.
Two knee surgeries and lingering hamstring issues limited Branch’s production. However, an even more troubling statistic was his lack of explosive plays. Even with a 41-yard reception against San Diego, Branch averaged 8.6 yards per reception this season. Last season Branch averaged 9.7 yards per catch, with three of his 43 catches covering more than 20 yards.
Branch finished with 190 catches for 2,357 yards and 15 touchdowns during his time with Seattle. The recent addition of veteran receiver Brandon Stokley made Branch expendable.
The Patriots will have to pick up the remainder of Branch’s $5.47 million base salary for this season. Branch is due to make $5.95 million in 2012.
Branch was noticeably absent from Seattle’s practice Monday. Asked about the receiver’s whereabouts, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Branch was excused from practice, and that he would likely be back with the team Wednesday.
“I gave him a personal day out of here today,” Carroll said. “So he was excused today.”
Branch was the discussion of trade speculation last week, and according to several reports had preliminary discussions about the possibility of rejoining the Patriots.
Deon Butler and Golden Tate split time with the first unit with Branch gone. Branch attended a ceremony at Louisville over the weekend, where his No. 9 jersey was placed in the school’s ring of honor.
Offensive lineman Sean Locklear (knee) did not practice Monday, but Carroll said he’s expected to play Sunday. Carroll said cornerback Marcus Trufant, resting an ailing ankle and watching Monday, also will play on Sunday. Offensive linemen Chester Pitts (knee), Ben Hamilton (knee) and Russell Okung (ankle) all made it through Monday’s practice. Pitts and Hamilton split time at left guard with the first unit.
Seattle (2-2) at Chicago (4-1), 10 a.m., Ch.13, 1240-AM, 1030-AM