Unless his emotions get the better of him, or New England Patriots management suddenly comes up with a better offer, wide receiver Deion Branch will not be on hand for the Friday opening of training camp.
Branch, who is seeking a contract extension, has deliberated the last several days over his course of action, and decided that he will not report until his deal is upgraded.
Under a new twist in the extension to the collective bargaining agreement, Branch can be fined a maximum of $14,000 per day. That is nearly triple the previous maximum daily fine of $5,000 that a team could levy against a player under contract who does not report to training camp.
The team's top wide receiver, Branch is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1.05 million in 2006, the final season of the original five-year contract he signed as a second-round choice in the 2002 draft. And the base salary is only that high because Branch performed well enough to trigger an "escalator" in the contract that raised his compensation by $500,000.
Branch, 27, has been absent from the Patriots' offseason workouts, including a mandatory minicamp, and it is believed he was fined for skipping that three-day session. The two sides have been discussing contract frameworks and numbers for nearly two months but have been unable to strike an agreement.
Team officials indicated as far back as March that securing an extension with Branch was a priority. The former Louisville standout would be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring without an extension, provided he reports for enough games in 2006 to gain an accrued season in the league's pension plan.
Branch is coming off a career year in 2005, when he had 78 receptions for 998 yards and five touchdowns. For his career, Branch has 213 catches for 2,744 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has appeared in 53 games and logged 42 starts. He earned most valuable player honors in Super Bowl XXXIX when he tied a title game record with 11 receptions, netting 133 yards.
The Patriots lost their other starting wide receiver, David Givens, when he signed with Tennessee as an unrestricted free agent earlier in the spring. New England signed former San Diego wide receiver Reche Caldwell as a free agent and chose former University of Florida wideout Chad Jackson, a player many scouts rated as a first-round prospect, in the second round.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.