I want to preface this by saying that I believe Deion Branch is generally a good guy who has worked hard to get on the field during his four years in Seattle.
At 30 years old, I still think he has enough ability to help a team and be effective if placed in the right situation.
However, I do not believe the Seahawks will keep Branch around next season at his current salary of $5.47 million due next season, despite a report that Seahawks general manager John Schneider believes that Branch fits into the Seahawks offensive system that will be installed by offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.
A more likely scenario for Seattle would be asking Branch to restructure his contract to stay around, or releasing him when the free agency period begins in March if they cannot coax a team to give up a draft pick for Branch in a trade.
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Branch’s performance in Seattle has been lukewarm at best. The 30-year-old receiver only played in 47 of the possible 64 games during his four-year stint in Seattle, averaging only 44 receptions for 559 receiving yards and three touchdowns a season. And he’s only played in all 16 games of a season once in his eight-year NFL career.
Two knee surgeries and lingering hamstring issues limited Branch’s production. However, a more troubling statistic for Branch during the 2009 season was his lack of explosive plays, as he averaged just 9.7 yards per catch, with only three of his 43 catches covering more than 20 yards.
Part of the reason for Branch’s lack of production last season was because he was miscast in the Seahawks new offense installed by former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Branch’s skill set is probably built more for a slot receiver, but the Seahawks signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh to play slot, leaving Branch to play on the outside when Nate Burleson went down with an ankle injury at the end of the season.
However, when given the chance for more playing time, Branch did not take advantage. His performance against Tampa Bay typified Branch’s struggles. He was targeted a team-high 10 times by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in a 24-7 home loss to Tampa Bay, finishing with only 4 catches for 28 yards. Three of the balls targeted to Branch ended up as interceptions for Tampa Bay.
If the Seahawks are really committed to keeping Branch around, then perhaps they will consider moving Houshmandzadeh to X receiver or split end, where Nate Burleson played, and putting Branch in his more comfortable position at Z or flanker, where Houshmandzadeh played last season.
Playing inside, Branch could better take advantage of his quickness and ability to read zone defenses and finding open windows in the middle of the field. Eddie Royal, a receiver with a similar skill set, had a productive rookie season in Bates’ offense at Denver in 2008, finishing with 91 catches. Granted, Royal is a more explosive athlete at this point of his career than Branch is now, but Branch would be more productive playing inside.
And like Brandon Marshall, Houshmandzadeh is a physical receiver who could get open on the perimeter of the defense against smaller corners. However, I do not think Houshmandzadeh has the run-after-catch ability that Marshall has or the speed to consistently stretch the defense, and Seattle still would have to find someone like Deon Butler to stretch the perimeter of the defense. Perhaps the Seahawks could move Houshmandzadeh to the slot in third down situations to take advantage of his unique skill set inside.