The team's general manager at the time, Tim Ruskell, repeatedly assured Branch that the organization had no such plans. Ruskell wasn't lying. The Seahawks held onto Branch, but if they had cut ties with the veteran receiver in 2009 following three years of declining production, not even Branch could have expressed shock.
When the post-Ruskell Seahawks finally unloaded Branch this week, the biggest surprise came in the price New England paid in reacquiring the 31-year-old receiver. Branch will return the higher of the Patriots' 2011 fourth-round choices: the one acquired from Denver or the one originally belonging to New England. Wasn't that a little steep?
Randy Moss had commanded a third-round choice when New England traded him to Minnesota last week, an indication Seattle might be lucky to get a fifth-rounder for Branch. As Branch himself told reporters Tuesday, "I’m not Randy Moss. I wasn’t Randy Moss when I was here. And I’m not here to replace him."
The lesson, as always, is that any commodity is worth whatever someone can get for it at a given time. There is no sliding scale or reference chart based on a wide receiver's past production or anything else. Branch's value to the Patriots increased once New England determined keeping Moss was no longer tenable.
For perspective, and with an assist from Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information, I've classified 17 receiver trades since 2007 by compensation levels:
1. Roy E. Williams to Dallas (2008)
Price paid: Dallas sent 2009 first-, third- and sixth-round choices to Detroit for Williams and a seventh-rounder.
Comment: This one sets the standard for overspending. Williams is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season in Dallas, but this deal marked the last time (for now) an NFL team traded a first-round choice for a wide receiver.
2. Randy Moss to Oakland (2005)
Price paid: Oakland sent 2005 first- and seventh-round picks, plus linebacker Napoleon Harris, to Minnesota.
Comment: The Raiders never had the supporting cast to maximize this investment. Moss didn't hold up his end, of course, but the Patriots later proved Moss could function at a high level in the right environment.
3. Deion Branch to Seattle (2006)
Price paid: Seattle sent its 2007 first-round choice to New England.
Comment: Ruskell hoped Branch would add character and leadership to a position group he viewed as lacking in those areas. Branch did not have the talent to justify the price, however, and injury problems diminished what returns Seattle got from its over-investment.
4. Brandon Marshall to Miami (2010)
Price paid: Miami sent 2010 and 2011 second-round choices to Denver.
Comment: Marshall is on pace for another 100-catch season, although he has only one touchdown reception in his first four games with Miami. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels comes from the New England tree. Both organizations like to load up on second-round draft choices.
5. Wes Welker to New England (2007)
Price paid: The Patriots sent 2007 second- and seventh-round choices to Miami.
Comment: Welker is on pace for his fourth consecutive 100-catch season since joining the Patriots. He had caught 96 passes over two seasons with Miami previously. The quarterback situation in New England allowed the Patriots to maximize this trade.
6. Chris Chambers to San Diego (2007)
Price paid: San Diego sent a 2008 second-round choice to Miami.
Comment: This deal never worked out the way San Diego planned. Chambers made some solid contributions early, but an ankle injury altered the course of his career with the Chargers. Malcolm Floyd emerged as a big-play threat, and San Diego cut Chambers during the 2009 season.
Comment: Edwards probably had run his course in Cleveland. The Browns were starting over. Edwards has 52 receptions, seven for touchdowns, in 17 games with the Jets. Check back later on this one.
8. Anquan Boldin to Baltimore (2010)
Price paid: Baltimore sent its 2010 third- and fourth-round choices to Arizona for Boldin and a fifth-round pick.
Comment: So far, so good for the Ravens. Boldin has 28 catches for 363 yards and three touchdowns in his first three games with Baltimore. Long-term durability concerns played into Arizona's decision to make the trade. Can Boldin hold up?
9. Randy Moss to Minnesota (2010)
Price paid: Minnesota sent a 2011 third-round choice to New England.
Comment: Moss had become unhappy and the Patriots decided to get value for him while they could, possibly at the expense of their 2010 on-field production. The Patriots spent only a fourth-round choice for Moss, used his immense talent for three-plus seasons, then got a third-rounder out of him. Not bad. But at what short-term cost?
10. Randy Moss to New England (2007)
Price paid: The Patriots sent a 2007 fourth-round choice to the Raiders.
Comment: Moss' relationship with the Raiders had deteriorated to the point that Oakland needed to unload him despite the high price it paid for Moss in 2005. Getting a fourth-round choice wasn't bad under the circumstances, although the price was a bargain from the Patriots' perspective.
11. Darrell Jackson to San Francisco (2007)
Price paid: The 49ers sent a 2007 fourth-round choice to Seattle.
Comment: Viewed as a risky move within the division at the time, Seattle came out OK. Jackson didn't fit the 49ers' offense and his deteriorating knee was another hindrance.
12. Ted Ginn Jr. to San Francisco (2010)
Price paid: The 49ers sent a 2010 fifth-round choice to Miami.
Comment: Ginn enjoyed a strong training camp before suffering a sprained knee in the regular-season opener. He has made a positive impact in the return game since coming back from the injury. San Francisco needs Ginn to emerge as a deep threat, too.
13. Deion Branch to New England (2010)
Price paid: The Patriots sent a fourth-round choice to Seattle.
Comment: The Seahawks got more in return for Branch than expected, but the Patriots can still come out OK. They've got Tom Brady, after all.
14. Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets (2010)
Price paid: The Jets sent a 2010 fifth-round choice to Pittsburgh.
Comment: Holmes served a four-game suspension to open the season. He caught three passes for 41 yards in his Jets debut Monday night. The Steelers had enough off-field concerns while dealing with the Ben Roethlisberger situation. Parting with Holmes made more sense in that context.
15. Greg Lewis to New England (2009)
Price paid: The Patriots sent a 2009 fifth-round choice to Philadelphia for Lewis and a seventh-rounder.
Comment: Oops. The Patriots cut Lewis before he played a regular-season game for them.
16. Mark Clayton to St. Louis (2010)
Price paid: The Rams sent a 2011 sixth-round choice to the Ravens for Clayton and a seventh-rounder.
Comment: This deal was working out very well for the Rams until Clayton suffered a season-ending knee injury against Detroit in Week 5. Clayton appeared to be a natural fit for the Rams' offense and he worked well with No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford.
17. Troy Williamson to Jacksonville (2008)
Price paid: The Jaguars sent a 2008 sixth-round choice to Minnesota.
Comment: Williamson caught eight passes over two seasons for the Jaguars.