Welcome home, Deion;WR returns from business trip
FOXBORO - If Deion Branch was lucky the real estate crisis would have lasted a couple months longer.
The former Super Bowl MVP returned to a stadium area he didn't recognize after four-plus years in exile (actually in Seattle, which these days feels like the same thing) looking for what a lot of Americans are these days. He came looking for work and a house.
Branch found the former almost immediately as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick began to force feed him changes the offense he once knew so well had undergone in his absence, but the latter is up to the wide receiver's wife because two months ago, over four years since he shot his way out of town after a vicious contract dispute, he sold his condo down the street from Gillette Stadium. For a guy whose timing was always impeccable that was one move made too soon.
''I just sold it,'' Branch said yesterday, a day after being acquired from the Seahawks for a 2011 fourth-round draft choice. ''I told my wife, `As soon as I sell the condo, now I'm back.' ''
None too soon in the eyes of the many New Englanders who are a lot less impressed with Randy Moss' 50 touchdowns in 52 games now that he's gone than they were when he was here. That's life in New England, where every athlete is better than he really is when he's here and worse than he ever was after he leaves.
Branch has some experience with that himself. One day he was the smiling MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX and two years later he was an overrated traitor trying to shoot his way out of Foxboro even though ''He has a ''
That's what many who once cheered him kept hollering after he held out all summer at a cost of $14,000 a day in fines. Branch understood what they didn't. It was time to make a stand.
He was facing the final year of a five-year rookie contract the Patriots had verbally agreed would be for four seasons before slapping a fifth on, after he'd been impressive in rookie workouts he didn't have to attend because he was unsigned. He did it in good faith. He never forgot their response.
Five years later Branch was to earn $545,000 plus an additional $500,000 in earned incentives. His former teammate, fellow receiver David Givens, had just signed a five-year, $24 million deal with the Titans that included an $8 million bonus, with most of the money in the deal's first three years. Branch knew he was worth more and turned down a club-friendly three-year extension worth $15.6 million for a lot of reasons, not the least being that the $8 million bonus was split over two years and more than half that money was backloaded.
Eventually the Patriots realized Branch wasn't coming back and allowed him to seek a trade. He found two suitors, the Seahawks and the New York Jets, but even then was forced to file two grievances with NFL arbitrators to force the trade. He won a third grievance, one the team hit him with in a failed effort to squeeze $518,000 in fines and 20 percent of his rookie signing bonus out of him, after he'd been traded to Seattle for a first-round draft choice (safety Brandon Meriweather).
Branch received a five-year, $39 million deal in Seattle that included $23 million over the first three years, with a signing bonus in excess of $12 million.
Yet yesterday Branch was back wearing that same infectious smile and speaking in his usual unpretentious tone as he explained in a way far more palatable than Moss had that football is a hardball business.
''(I got) no regrets,'' Branch said. ''I wish it never happened, but no regrets. When I left there wasn't any issue between me and coach Belichick. We . . . didn't leave on a bad note and I think that's why it was so easy to return, because we both understood what was going on. It (2006) wasn't a personal issue. I wasn't mad at coach, he wasn't mad at me. We just couldn't come to an agreement. That stuff happens.''
Sometimes so does a second coming.
Branch was shocked to see a mall wrapped around the stadium but less shocked to find not a single receiver from when he last wore Patriots colors. That's the business he chose - the change business.
In life they say you can't come home again, and maybe so, but if there's anyone you'd like to see do it it's the smiling man now wearing Randy Moss' old/new number (84) but resembling him in few other ways - either on the field or at a podium.
''That's the first thing I wanted to let you all know,'' Branch said. ''I'm not Randy Moss. I wasn't Randy Moss when I was here and I'm not here to replace him. My job is to go out and do what the offense asks of me and that's what I'm going to do.''
If he does, that should be good enough for everybody.