It’s not just an indicator of Branch’s well-known work ethic that he’d be logging extra time after a holdout in New England that lasted the entire preseason, a standoff which ended when he signed the 6-year, $39 million contract the Seahawks gave him after trading their 2007 first-round pick to the Patriots for his services. It’s also a sign that Branch knows how much he needs to learn in his new home, and in Mike Holmgren’s complex offense. Blowing off the rust was a factor, too.
"When you've rested for six months, everything's tough," Branch told the Associated Press. "I feel like it's my rookie year. Everything's all new."
New Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch, right, runs extra pass patterns against cornerback Marcus Trufant, left, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 after the conclusion of Seahawks practice in Kirkland, Wash. The former Super Bowl MVP's Monday trade to Seattle ended his 45-day holdout from the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Branch ran with the scout team for the most part in his first practice, but he impressed Holmgren enough to make the coach’s formerly steely resolve not to play his newest offensive asset against the Cardinals this Sunday soften a bit. “I haven’t made a decision - we’ll go right down to the wire on that one,” Holmgren said. “In talking to Deion yesterday, in situations like this, typically the player doesn’t come in and suit up and play right away. A player usually isn’t ready to do that. He’s usually not in football shape because he wasn’t in training camp, and it’s unfair to the player.
“This young man is a little different cat now, he’s in great shape, but he still hasn’t played any football for a while, but we’ll see and we’ll make that decision late in the week … He’s a quick study, and he’s a bright guy and he works hard at it off the field, but there’s a lot to do, but you could certainly put in a little package where he is on the field. I’ve got to see him practice a couple days first here.”
When asked whether Branch’s addition to an already overstuffed cadre of receivers will change the plays he might draw up for the team, Holmgren preached patience. “At some point, we will try and add some things. Right now he has his hands full learning what we’re doing. We have plenty in the game plan, we have plenty of stuff already that we can put him in the game and he will get his touches. The question is, you create a package where you have four wide receivers in the game at the same time, we have to talk about and think about that and do that properly. We have not been a big four wide receiver team, we sprinkled it in there but it is intriguing to get all those guys on the field at the same time.”
There’s no question that any defense would be hard-pressed to stop Branch, Darrell Jackson, Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram all at the same time. The question remains, however – how in earth will Holmgren and his quarterback Matt Hasselbeck be able to keep everyone happy? “Maybe the single best thing about him so far is that he appears to be very unselfish,” Holmgren said of Branch. “He’s a great team guy. The research we did and the people we talked to told us we were just going to love this guy as a person. That is a pretty good start. I know he is a good football player. Coming into a new team, Tom Ashworth is the only guy he really knows because they were teammates, that is important. It is something that we feel good about around here with this group. To add a player of his stature who is a good guy and a very team-oriented person, that is good.”
New Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch walks off the practice field Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 in Kirkland, Wash. The former Super Bowl MVP's Monday trade to Seattle ended his 45-day holdout from the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Branch agreed when he spoke to the media upon arrival in the Emerald City on Tuesday – he’s not out to do anything more than add to the offense in any way his coaches see fit. “My role is for me to be prepared to play football,” he said. “I can’t say where (Coach Holmgren) will line me up, where would I be during certain plays? I don’t know that. My job is going to come in, learn the game plan, get the system down first and foremost and start getting acclimated with the guys on the team and then go from there.”
It has been speculated by some that Darrell Jackson – the Seahawks’ former undisputed #1 wideout – might be less than happy with the new landscape, given Branch’s money and Jackson’s own well-known displeasure with the contract he signed with Seattle in 2004. Reportedly, Jackson was promised a re-examination of the dollar figures of the deal by former Team President Bob Whitsitt, based on the future salaries of elite receivers. Jackson’s six-year, $25 million deal was honored by the current administration, but Whitsitt’s alleged verbal agreement with Jackson and his representatives was not.
Now that the NFL’s salary cap has entered a new stratosphere in the wake of the extended Collective Bargaining Agreement, it’s surprising that more newer, richer deals aren’t causing more discord among teammates. Hopefully, Jackson can find a way to make it work for him.
Holmgren doesn’t see it as an issue. “I talked to Darrell today. I said, ‘Did you meet Deion,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, great guy.’ When they finally meet the player and they realize that that player is going to help us be better, everything is fine. I ask them to be unselfish, but the receivers more than any other position, their catches mean everything. That is how they get noticed, that is how they get paid, that’s how they get on SportsCenter, and that is everything. They have to make a decision, all the players do, (to say to themselves), I’m either going to be on a team and help this team achieve or I am going to be an individual and hurt this team.
“None of our guys want to do that. They want their catches, they want the ball, but they believe in what we’re doing as far as the team. Everyone has to adjust a little bit.”
Deion Branch, the newest Seahawk, out on the practice field after hours on his first day, will be the first to set the tone.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here.