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By Tom E. Curran
Less than a week after sending Randy Moss back where he started, the Patriots are bringing Deion Branch back to his original address.
New England cut a deal with the Seahawks that returns the 31-year-old receiver to the team he basically stormed away from in 2006. Branch was sent to New England in exchange for a fourth-round pick in next April's draft (if and when it's held with a lockout looming).
Branch -- who agitated for a new deal in 2006 and held out of training camp that year -- was dealt to Seattle in exchange for a first-round pick. The Pats used that pick -- the 24th in the 2007 draft -- to take Brandon Meriweather.
Now, New England has flipped a fourth-round pick to Seattle -- basically, the fourth-round pick they got from Denver in exchange for Laurence Maroney -- to get Branch back in their lineup.
Given the Patriots' plethora of picks in next year's draft, the cost was minimal. But what of the relevance of Branch at this point?
He's played 37 of a possible 52 games in the past four seasons and has been on the field to start the game in just 5 of his last 18. He's caught 137 passes in those four seasons and so far has 13 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown this year.
Where does he fit in the Patriots offense? That will be interesting to see.
In 2005 season, the Patriots offense was run by Josh McDaniels. Much has changed since then. Bill O'Brien is now the lead playcaller and de facto offensive coordinator. The running attack doesn't have a bell cow tailback as it did when Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith were running the ball and Branch was Tom Brady's most favored target. And the tight ends are far more involved now than they ever were when Branch was Tom Brady's pet target.
Wes Welker is now Brady's go-to guy, Aaron Hernandez is their secondary target. Brandon Tate -- now that Moss is gone -- is their field stretcher. Is Branch better than Welker? Doubtful, even with Welker at less than 100 percent. At 31, is he going to be a better option than Julian Edelman, who's been gathering dust the first few games?
Brady wanted Branch back in New England. Now he's got him. Whether this move ultimately helps the team or merely placates Brady's wishes is the most interesting subplot. Can he still run? Can he uncover underneath? Will he stay healthy?
There are more questions than answers right now about Branch. But this much is clear. Branch is not the complete answer to replacing the departed Randy Moss. He's no Moss. Never was. He used to be a nice little receiver who could help alter games because he and Brady worked well together and Branch's quickness and hands were unique.
Whether he turns out to be more than a wish list pickup to appease Brady? We'll see.