Good-bye and good riddance. I will come right out and say, as I have said repeatedly since the summer, that Deion Branch bungled badly and that the New England Patriots front office were right to hold to their valuation of what he was worth. Deion Branch outplayed his contract, just as Richard Seymour had done. Seymour, however, had the dignity and class to work with the front office and get a fair and equitable contract done. Branch went hardline, which is certainly within his rights, and got his cash.

Rather than let him leave for nothing, as they had with Drew Bledsoe in 2002, the Patriots held on to him until another team was desperate enough to make a move and give in to their demands. Branch is an undeniable talent, but the Patriots have brought in the younger and cheaper replacements for Branch and David Givens while the talking heads babbled on endlessly about how they had no chance to win with all the free agent departures. Stealthily, the Patriots have drafted Chad Jackson to fill in for Branch (doing a great Deion Branch imitation by being injured already) and traded a ridiculously low draft pick (fifth round) for Doug Gabriel to take the role vacated by free agent bust David Givens (do you think the Titans would like his money back to have paid to a quarterback who could play this season? Billy Volek and Kerry Collins: sucking it up in 2006 as the Tennessee fans pray for Vince Young to learn the playbook sometime this decade).

It is easy to criticize the Patriots management and say that the team should have just paid Branch, Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri, and Givens the outrageous amounts of money they got, but I think it shows why this team can buck the odds and be consistently dominant for the foreseeable future: they do not have a problem making the difficult decision that is best for the team. Cleveland signed McGinest and still cannot win. David Givens (on my fantasy team, no less) was a non-factor as the lowly Jets took out Tennessee. (Vinatieri simply made a career decision to kick in a dome on turf: four years at North Dakota State and ten in New England, I think he has earned that right over the final 4 or 5 years of his career.)

Spending money on aging veterans or over-priced players who can be replaced without too much pain (as compared to Tom Brady and Richard Seymour, two of the irreplaceable parts in place) with cheaper and younger players is simply good business. Good business equals wins and championships. Underestimate Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli at your own peril.