Report: Patriots re-sign Branch to one-year deal


Report: Patriots re-sign Branch to one-year deal

The Patriots are by and large set at the wide receiver position after signing Brandon Lloyd, Donte' Stallworth, and Anthony Gonzalez so far this offseason.

Before that, they franchised Wes Welker.

But that didn't stop them from reportedly re-signing Deion Branch on Thursday.

Branch played 15 games for the Patriots last season, making 51 cached for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

Those numbers are almost identical with the ones he put up last season with the Patriots in 11 games -- 48 catches, 706 yards, five touchdowns.

He expressed his happiness on the completed deal via Twitter.

It's truly an honor and a blessing to be back with Patriots next year. Can't wait to get back in the swing of things. Deion Branch 84 (@deionbranch84) March 22, 2012
Branch turns 33 in July, and is clearly on the back-end of his career (which is why the Patriots needed wide receiver help), but a one-year deal (terms undisclosed) isn't too much of a risk, and his role on the team should be reduced some with the other wide receiver acquisitions made this offseason.

So what does this mean for Chad Ochocinco, the only full-time wide receiver who was under contract with the Patriots going into the offseason? He could be the odd man out.

ESPN was first to report the Branch signing.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

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

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.