Admit it. You’re surprised he’s still here.
And really, besides Deion Branch himself, who isn’t? Who else thought the 31-year-old wide receiver would be with the Seahawks in 2010?
Sure he has two years remaining on the six-year, $39 million contract the Seahawks gave him four years ago, but after four seasons marked more by injuries than production, and with a new head coach and general manager in charge who have no ties to Branch, the common thinking was that he and the team would part ways this offseason.
Yet here Branch is, still on the team, still running with the starting offense, and still smiling.
See that’s the thing about Branch. As frustrating as his tenure has been to Seahawks fans, he hasn’t let the injuries, the critics or the boos get to him. Despite the torn ACL, the multiple knee surgeries and the rest of the injuries that have kept him from playing a full season since he came to Seattle, Branch still believes he has plenty of good football remaining in the same legs that have failed him time and time again. The question now is whether he can finally prove it after four disappointing seasons in Seattle.
“It hasn’t been frustrating at all,” Branch says of his tenure in Seattle. “Not for a second. You’ve got to understand, this is football man. I’ve been saying it for the last two years. … It’s football, it’s going to happen, guys will get hurt. You’ve got to stay positive, take it with a grain of salt and move forward. You can’t dwell on it. I’m very thankful that I have a healthy family, and if I can go out and play football, that’s a plus.”
Branch is equally optimistic on the topics of football and family. He is thankful for having a healthy family, yet has a son, Deiondre, who suffers long-term affects from contracting meningitis as an infant. But rather than talk about Deiondre’s limitations, Branch instead thanks God for a healthy family, and talks about the joy in his son’s life, not the difficulties.
And, yes, Branch absolutely would love to stay healthy and have a productive season, and, yes, he understands that some Seahawks fans would just as soon cut ties with him, but he’s not going to let that bother him.
“I don’t worry about it,” said Branch, the MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl while a member of the New England Patriots. “Nobody can take care of my family but me. Regardless of what you do in life, people are going to judge you. The people doing the judging are not in my shoes. I really don’t pay attention to it. If people want to judge me, that’s their business.”
But plenty of people figured Branch’s chances to help this team had passed. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, he is due more than $5 million this season, and with Tim Ruskell — the GM who traded a first-round pick for Branch, then signed him to a big contract — out of the picture, it seemed like 2009 had to be Branch’s final year in Seattle. With a new coaching staff and a new front office, the thinking was that the team would want to get younger, not spend big money on a receiver who has never played up to the contract he signed in 2006.
Yet as players cleaned out their lockers after last year’s 5-11 season, Branch said he wanted to finish his career in Seattle. Not a lot of people believed it would happen, but here Branch is, playing a big role in Seattle’s offense, starting at receiver along with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and receiving constant praise from head coach Pete Carroll.
“I really love what Deion Branch is bringing us,” Carroll said earlier in training camp. “He’s got a real style to him that’s unique and he’s quick and he can catch everything and he understands the game and he and Matt (Hasselbeck) are really hitting it off well, learning how to work with one another, probably in a more directed fashion than before. We’re really looking at him to do a lot of special things.”
Of course nothing is guaranteed in the NFL. It’s a cutthroat league, and every year the final round of cuts brings surprises, often in the form of highly paid veterans being cast aside. Branch certainly appears to be a part of the Seahawks’ plans, but stranger things have happened than a team deciding to cut an over-30 player with a history of injuries.
And of course there are the injuries. Branch had his knee scoped again in the offseason, and while he has made it this far in training camp without incident, most fans will have to see a full season out of Branch to believe that such a thing is possible.
No matter how strange seeing No. 83 still in a Seahawks uniform may be for some Seahawks fans, Deion Branch is still here. And he’s still smiling.
“This is where I want to be. This is where I want to finish my career,” he said. “I’m satisfied. The only thing now is for me to help this team win the Super Bowl.”