And one of the greatest Panic Moves of all time just walked out of our lives.
We were hard up for receiving help and instead of blowing high-end draft picks or going after one of the top dog free agents, we decided to shoot our wad on trading a first round pick – albeit a late first round pick – to the New England Patriots for Deion Branch. This was after our Super Bowl run, in 2006, back when apparently the guys who GOT us to the Super Bowl weren’t deemed good enough to get us over the pass-catching hump.
A lot of us thought – rightly so – that a first rounder (even the 32nd pick) was too much to give up. Of course, you look at his track record and you’d have to wonder if that pick would’ve amounted to more than a hill of beans. We’re pretty familiar with the usual bean hills Tim Ruskell got us when he drafted in the 20’s. Personally, I found myself justifying it by arguing: you never know what you’re going to get with a draft pick; we KNOW what we’re getting with Deion Branch. A veteran receiver who’s been productive on winning teams. We just “drafted” a guy who can step in right away and lead the team in receptions for the next 4 years.
Unfortunately, what I failed to realize was: you never know what you’re going to get with a traded veteran either. I mean, there’s a reason teams trade guys in the NFL. It’s not like baseball where trades are made all the time dependant on whether a team is in a pennant race or completely out of it. It’s not like in basketball where trades are often dictated by salary and one side dumping said salary. In the NFL, teams don’t trade guys. Teams RELEASE guys. Teams aren’t beholden to guaranteed contracts. So, teams use guys until they’re worthless and then they get rid of them.
Teams, however, don’t give up guys who still have some value on the football field. For them to get rid of those players via trade, oftentimes you have to ask, “What’s wrong with this player?” “Why are they giving us a guy who just won a Super Bowl MVP not too long ago?” “What’s missing in this picture?”
Well, what we found was a guy you can’t really depend on to put up Number 1 numbers week-in and week-out. We found a guy who was injured almost more often than not. And frankly, we found a guy with a Me First attitude who couldn’t back that up on the football field.
The life of the Deion Branch era was a strange and tragic one. We gave up a first round draft pick to get him. We went from Super Bowl Contender to one of the 4 or 5 worst teams in the NFL. We spanned two general managers and three head coaches. And when the hurricane finally dissipated, we got in return a fourth round draft pick. That’s a lot of damage. I’m not saying it’s entirely his fault, but he sure as shit didn’t help much.
So, so long Deion Branch. I already like Brandon Stokley more than you anyway!