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Saturday, November 17, 2012
What's next for Deion Branch?

By Mike Rodak

This isn't the first time this season that the New England Patriots have released wide receiver Deion Branch, but the circumstances are different this time around.

The Patriots cut the 33-year-old veteran on Saturday, clearing a roster spot for practice squad receiver Greg Salas, who effectively pushed Branch off the roster when he was acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Rams on Labor Day weekend.

This time, Branch will be subject to waivers, since the NFL's trading deadline has passed. All 31 other teams will have a chance to claim him by 4 p.m. Monday.

Teams who could eye Branch as a veteran solution at receiver for the stretch run will be considering two factors: (a) Is Branch healthy? He was added to Thursday's injury report with a hamstring injury, which is believed to play a role in his release, and (b) Is he still an effective receiver, especially without the added benefit of his chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady?

From this perspective, most teams will answer "no" to one or both of those questions, and pass on claiming him.

But if a team decided to pick up Branch off waivers, it would be economical. He is earning the veteran minimum salary of $925,000, which prorated over the final six games would cost a team only $326,471.

In September, Branch told the Boston Herald that there had been "communication" with other teams after he was released, but he ended up re-signing with the Patriots shortly thereafter. Whether there will be interest from teams two months later is unclear.

Further, it is not known if the Patriots view the latest Salas-for-Branch swap to be permanent. Salas was the highest-paid player on the practice squad, earning slightly more than the active roster minimum ($465,001). At this point, he may stay on the roster for the foreseeable future as insurance for Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, who have a similar playing style but are both in the final seasons of their contract.

It would be premature to rule out a Branch return even if Salas remains on the roster. But if Branch goes unclaimed, he may not re-sign with New England until his hamstring injury is cleared up, if his return is in the cards at all.