Greg Salas has effectively replaced Deion Branch on the depth chart but whether he's effective on game days is another matter. And that could necessitate the Patriots bringing Branch back. At least that's the scuttlebutt based on, well, a few clues and a lot of speculation. Even though Branch was released on Friday, he still had a locker at Gillette Stadium which led to the jumping of conclusions in the days since.
During his weekly radio appearance on WEEI, quarterback Tom Brady was asked about Branch's future, the mysterious locker situation and what it all means.
"I have no idea. I don't know what any of that means," Brady said (via ESPNBoston.com). "Deion's a great friend of mine. I love him, I love him as a brother, as a friend and as a teammate. I'm hoping everything always works out. He's just a great person."
Branch wasn't the only veteran to get the ax. Offensive lineman Dan Koppen and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer were also surprising cuts.
"There's so many great friends and guys that you've spent so much time with," Brady continued. "And it happens every year. It's a tough part of what we deal with, but my fingers are crossed for all those guys that they find a job.
"The thing is, when you see it, you realize how much you've got to focus on doing your own job. You’ve got to try to be the best teammate possible for the guys in the locker room, try to go out there and get prepared for this week 'cause ultimately, that's what our job is. The guys that are remaining, that's what you've got to do. Obviously, you have a lot of feelings and mixed emotions for those other guys, because they're great friends of ours."
That's the thing about Brady: he's entering his 13th season and he seems more motivated now than when he was a fresh-faced kid out of Michigan taking over for Drew Bledsoe. It has a lot to do with his sustained success, and when he says things like he'd like to play until he's 40 you believe him.
While losing Branch certainly affected Brady, everybody knows that this team can survive without much depth at wide receiver. Even in 2006, with the likes of Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, the Pats were 12-4. And the pundits are expecting even more this time around. Sixteen of 16 ESPN experts have New England winning the division and a quarter of them think the Pats will win the Super Bowl. We can't imagine those numbers would be any different had Branch remained on the roster.