So what exactly is Bill Belichick trying to pull here?
On the one hand fans are witnessing a team change before their eyes. The Patriots are going younger on offense and defense and with it comes the growing pains of a…you guessed it, a transition year.
Not that anyone in the Patriots front office will ever admit but with the decision to shoulder so much responsibility on the likes of Devon McCourty, Aaron Hernandez, and Darius Butler shows that the Patriots are clearly moving on to a new cast of characters.
The trading of the 33 year old Moss was to be the ultimate statement of this new philosophy, the moment that officially turns the page on an old era.
So why is Deion Branch suddenly making a cameo?
At 31, Branch isn’t much younger than Moss and is an order of magnitude short of talent compared to him. Nothing against Branch, he had his best years in New England including Super Bowl MVP honors in 2005 but he does not bring the home run threat that Moss did on a weekly basis.
Branch’s name doesn’t draw the kind of attention on the field that makes teams nervous, or the kind of attention that can tie up defenses on the field.
He has already made it clear that he has not returned to New England to play the role of Randy Moss, and that he cannot replace Moss and his skill set.
So why is he here?
It is a move that can’t help but look like fan service, a silent acknowledgement that a Patriots team without Randy Moss is not what people want. More importantly though it is a move to distract people away from the fact that this team is still going through some major growing pains.
For the most part fans are buying it, and why wouldn’t they? Those three super bowl rings still do a lot the talking for Belichick. It’s simply the “Patriot Way”, and its ideas set in quick.
You can hear it now.
“it’s another bit of Belichick genius,” people will say.
“They look like the old Patriots now.”
The “old” Patriots of course being the cast of proverbial no name players that simply do their job. The classic fantasy that players play for the logo on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back; but that’s all that it is, a fantasy.
No team gets better after dropping a hall of fame talent like Randy Moss. To believe so would acknowledge that talent does not make a difference in the NFL. Tom Brady has that kind of talent, but with Moss now gone who else does?
That is not to say Branch will not succeed back in New England. For all intents and purposes he will more than likely have himself a wonderful season once again catching passes from Brady. But who is to say it will last beyond his current deal? What if he decides to use this reunion to pad his stats and try and get himself a long term deal that will probably be pretty hard to come by in New England?
It’s just more questions in a Patriots season that is already full of them, and perhaps we may never hear the true answer: this is not the year for Patriots. Not yet at least.
Maybe the minds over at Patriot Place saw the trouble Red Sox ownership got themselves into when they uttered the dreaded term “bridge year” and decided against giving fans any hint of what their long term plans for the team are.
Maybe this trip back to the future actually is another bit of Belichick genius and when Branch hits 88 catches we’ll, like the time travelling Delorian before him, see some serious stuff.
Wherever the ride takes them one thing is clear. Whether we like it or not, we’re just along for the ride.