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Originally published Friday, December 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks' Deion Branch has been a questionable investment

The Seahawks got the business end of the stick with Deion Branch. They have paid a $7 million signing bonus and nearly $9 million in salary for the first half of Branch's contract while his receptions and the number of games declined because of injuries to his foot, his heel and most seriously, his knee.

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — It was business, never personal.

Deion Branch understood that even when the Patriots were fining him $14,000 every day he missed in August 2006 during the holdout that precipitated his trade to Seattle.

And after the Seahawks signed Branch to the six-year, $39 million contract the Patriots weren't willing to give him, he thanked his former franchise for the opportunity it had given him. Three seasons later, there are no hard feelings. It was never personal.

"It was just two sides couldn't come to an agreement," Branch said. "It's a big business."

Branch got what he wanted: a new contract. The Patriots got plenty, too, receiving a first-round draft pick to relinquish the rights to a player they had been unable to sign to a long-term contract.

It's the Seahawks who got the business end of the stick. They have paid a $7 million signing bonus and nearly $9 million in salary for the first half of Branch's contract while his receptions and the number of games declined because of injuries to his foot, his heel and most seriously, his knee.

This is not the return Seattle expected on its investment. The Seahawks not only gave Branch a contract the Patriots wouldn't, they sacrificed a first-round pick for the privilege of doing so, a choice that could have been used to address the need at guard a year before they signed Mike Wahle in free agency.

The price seems steep in hindsight, but it was widely celebrated when the Seahawks made the trade. The Seahawks were getting a former Super Bowl MVP, someone who played his best in the sport's biggest game. Not only that, they were getting a cornerstone at a position where Darrell Jackson was their top receiver, someone who was missing practices and sitting out offseason workouts.

"We needed someone to step forward and kind of be the leader of the group," coach Mike Holmgren said. "And he never really got the chance to. He really didn't."

That's because of the injuries, but Branch was never going to be the prototypical No. 1 receiver. He is 5 feet 9 and hadn't had 1,000 yards receiving in any season. He was strong and quick, though, the kind of receiver Holmgren expected could flourish in his offense that demands precision and discipline above everything else.

"I thought he would be a good fit for what we do," Holmgren said.

Branch played his first game for Seattle less than two weeks after he arrived, participated in 14 games his first season in what amounted to a cannonball into Seattle's offense.

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"I was thrown in the fire," Branch said.

There were great moments. The two touchdown passes he caught in a comeback victory in St. Louis, the 113 yards receiving he had against San Francisco. He finished with 53 catches in what was supposed to be an appetizer for what he would provide to Seattle's offense after a full season to acclimate himself.

"We had big plans going into the second year," Branch said.

That was last season, and Branch had more than 120 yards receiving in two of Seattle's first four games. In Week 4, Seattle played at San Francisco, the team they had traded Jackson to for a fourth-round pick. Branch caught seven passes in that game for 130 yards, including a 65-yard reception.

That remains his longest catch as a Seahawk and the last time he surpassed 100 yards receiving in a game.

Branch was injured in the first half of the Seahawks' fifth game in 2007, suffering what he said was a lisfranc injury. Then came a torn knee ligament in the playoff game followed by a rehabilitation that lasted until October and then he hurt his heel in the first half of his first game back. He has missed 13 of Seattle's past 23 regular-season games.

Branch has been diligent in his rehabilitation and showed why he was so well regarded as a teammate that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sent a text message to Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, telling him the kind of player and person the Seahawks were getting.

"It makes a lot of sense now being teammates with him for a little bit," Hasselbeck said.

But Branch has never had any problems with the personal side of football, not even when he was in New England and holding out for a new contract. Two years after the Patriots traded him away instead of acquiescing to his contract, there are no hard feelings in New England.

"Deion's a good football player," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

"He did a great job for us. Seattle paid a good price to get him."

It's a price the Seahawks are still paying.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Then & now
When Seattle traded for Deion Branch in 2006, the Seahawks were acquiring a receiver who had played his best in the biggest games, catching 21 passes in the Patriots' two Super Bowl victories while he was on the roster. He hasn't produced nearly so spectacularly in the playoffs for Seattle:
Regular season Patriots (2002-05) Seahawks (2006-present)
Seasons 4 3
Games played 53 29
Catches 213 115
Receiving yards per game 51.8 53.0
TDs 14 8
Playoffs Patriots (2002-05) Seahawks (2006-present)
Games 8 3
Catches 41 8
Receiving yards per game 78.6 32
TDs 2 0

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