The Seahawks get to enjoy some home cooking tonight, for their second(and final) preseason game in less than a week against the Oakland Raiders. The main agenda of tonight's game will be to get a better look at some of the lesser known players as the team whittles its final roster to 53 on Saturday.
The starters will play little, if any, against Oakland as they hope to avoid injury and rest up for next Sunday's home opener against St. Louis. Newly acquired running back Edgerrin James could see a few carries if he presses the coaches for some action, but don't be surprised if the all-time leading rusher among active backs doesn't make his Seahawk debut until the Rams game. Rookie breakout star Nick Reed will look to make it four straight games with a sack against a beleaguered Raider offensive line, which is one of the few plot lines to follow in a otherwise uneventful preseason finale.
The big story is going to be the production of wide receiver Deion Branch. Coming into tonight, Branch has posted a uninspiring two catches for 13 yards. Barring a reenactment of Branch's Super Bowl MVP performance(11 catches, 133 yards) tonight, it might be time for the team to cut ties with the former Louisville standout. In Branch's three years in Seattle since coming over in a midseason trade from New England, he's never played a full 16 games, never topped 1,000 yards and never scored more than four touchdowns. That isn't what the team had in mind when it traded a first round pick for Branch in 2006. As it stands right now, Branch is scheduled to make $4.94 million dollars this season to be, at best, the third receiver behind T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Nate Burleson.
Keep in mind that the team jettisoned running back T.J. Duckett a little over a week ago, who was one of the best(if not, the best) red zone backs last season, because of his lack of production two games into the '09 preseason. However, in terms of preseason production, Duckett looks like Gale Sayers compared to Branch, who has been as prominent in this offense as plot in a snuff film. Granted, the Seahawks had the luxury of having a proven back like James to sign as a fallback option for cutting Duckett, whereas the team has nothing but young and inconsistent wideouts behind Branch. That being said, even Stevie Wonder can see that Branch has been outplayed this preseason by young backups like Courtney Taylor, Jordan Kent, and rookie Deon Butler. The team also needs extra depth on the offensive line to make up for the extended absences of linemen Walter Jones and Charles Spencer and might not be inclined to keep a surplus of wideouts(particularly oft-injured ones making close to $5 million dollars).
It makes you wonder: If the team was willing to drop Duckett, what possible justification do they have for keeping Branch(who would be making more than double what Duckett was set to be paid). So tonight could be(and should be) the final game for Branch as a Seattle Seahawk and might be the first time in NFL history that the employment status of a former Super Bowl MVP comes down to how well he performs in a preseason finale. However it plays out, it has certainly been a interesting appetizer to what is sure to be a meaty regular season.
UPDATE: Branch didn't play in Thursday's finale. He also was not among the dozen or so who were cut today by Seattle to bring the final roster down to 52(though it will be 53 with the inevitable addition of veteran safety Lawyer Milloy). We'll have more on who's in and who's out as well as a look-back on Thursday game later this weekend.
About the Author
Written by Dave Leonardis
Born and raised in New Jersey, I've been writing since I was 10 and blogging since I was 18. I'm a huge sports nerd, following football, baseball and basketball in particular in close detail. My style is very upfront. I don't pull punches and I'm not shy about criticizing anything I feel deserves a proper tongue-lashing. If you're looking for someone who says what he wants, when he wants, then look no further than this guy right here.