Branch a reliable target in playoffs

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Branch a reliable target in playoffs

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch returned to New England in a trade last season. He was used to winning Super Bowls with the Patriots, not losing in their first game of the playoffs to a divisional rival.

But that's what happened last year. Branch has said in recent weeks -- and reiterated it again on Thursday -- that previous playoff experiences mean a whole lot of nothing entering Saturday night's playoff game with the Denver Broncos.

But listening to Bill Belichick praise Branch's game on Thursday, it sounds like the Patriots coach is looking for those past experiences to pay off against a solid Broncos defense.

"Deion's a very instinctive receiver," said Belichick. "He was in college, at Louisville, and then from day one when he got here. He's smart. He learns very quickly. He just understands the receiver concepts and techniques."

Belichick pointed out that timing is everything in the passing game. And they'll need plenty of it on Saturday.

"He almost always does what the quarterback would expect him to do," said Belichick. "He just has a good instinct and a good feel for what the right decision to make is, based on what he's seeing, so that he can help the quarterback, where he can be in the spot where the quarterback wants him to be, when he wants him to be there.

"What you really want is the receiver to come open as the quarterback is ready to deliver the ball. And Deion has a great sense for that timing . . . Those are the kind of things that Deion does, that, I don't want to say you can't coach, but it's hard to coach those things, because everyone's a little bit different."

Belichick continued with the praise of Branch, and compared his instincts to that of Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and Randy Moss.

"He almost always does the right thing, just like Troy Brown, just like Kevin Faulk," said Belichick. "You can run a play, you can practice it all year, and something can come up in the season, that, it's just not the way you talked about it. It's not the way you've practiced it. And then, what they player does, you look at it and say, 'That was the right thing to do.' And the quarterback saw it that way, and the receiver did it that way.

"Branch is great at that. He's great at that. As was Troy Brown, as was Kevin Faulk, and Randy Moss. Those guys, they just knew where they could go, how long they had to get there, how to do it."

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again. 

What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals? 

Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.

They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.

So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo? 

Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games. 

Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.  

ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.

Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer. 

Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season. 

Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Football is coming.

The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.

Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.

The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.

The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.