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Friday, September 01, 2006
Broken Deal to Deal? Deion Branch Files Grievance Over Patriots' Refusal to Trade Him
In what seems like an unprecedented move, New England Patriots holdout wide receiver Deion Branch has, through the NFLPA, filed a grievance against the team because it won't trade him. Branch, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX, is entering the last year of his five-year rookie contract, which over the last four seasons has paid him about the league-minimum (plus a $1 million signing bonus), and he is slated to earn about $1 million this year. He wants a new contract that will pay him at least $12 million in bonus and guaranteed dollars. The Patriots have steadfastly refused. (For more background on Branch's holdout, see Jerry Rice Slams Deion Branch's Holdout, 6/13/2006).
A couple of weeks ago, the Patriots granted permission to Branch and his agent, Jason Chayutt, to seek a trade. The move was seen as a way for the Patriots to show Branch that his market value wasn't anywhere near what he had estimated. In other words, the team didn't think that Branch would net his desired contract on the open market. Yet in the event that he did, the Patriots agreed that they would trade him if, and only if, the team offering the contract presented the Patriots with a "fair and reasonable" return in a trade.
And in the last 24 hours--and perhaps to the surprise of the Patriots--Branch has received two lucrative six-year contract offers, from the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks, in the $36 million to $39 million range, with $13 million worth of guaranteed money. So he got what he thought he was worth. But here's the problem: both teams have apparently offered one second round pick and an established wide receiver (Laveranues Coles is said to be the Jets' offered player), whereas the Patriots are demanding two first round picks. To me at least, that seems like a rather pricy extraction for a 26-year-old player who has never had 1,000 yards receiving or caught more than 78 passes in a season.
And therein lies the essence of Branch's grievance: he contends that the Patriots are undervaluing his financial worth, but overvaluing his trade value, and they shouldn't be able to have it both ways, especially since they agreed to deal him for a "fair and reasonable" return. The NFLPA, led by attorney Richard Berthelsen, agrees that the Patriots have "reneged" on their deal, and that the team should be required to trade Branch.
On the other hand, what the heck does "fair and reasonable" mean, and who should get to decide that? Moreover, should players be able to "force" teams to trade them? A special master--who works for both the NFL and NFLPA--will decide all of that in the coming days in an emergency hearing.
My prediction: if the Patriots don't trade him over the weekend, Branch will lose his grievance, because for a special master to command the Patriots to trade him could set a curious and likely undesirable precedent whereby players could use the greivance process to compel not only trades, but the return teams obtain in those trades.
Update (9/2/2006): Through the NFLPA, Branch has filed two grievances against the Patriots. The first alleges that the Patriots broke their pledge to trade him for a "fair and reasonable" return. That claim is addressed above, and will be heard in the next seven days by one of two special masters, Professor John Feerick of Fordham University School of Law or arbitrator Shyam Das. Branch will be represented by NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, and his personal attorney, Peter Ginsberg. The second grievance alleges that the Patriots failed to negotiate in good faith over Branch's contract extension. It will be heard by special master Professor Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, although no date has been scheduled.