Danny O'Neil Compares Deion Branch to Erik Bedard

No player ever wants to be injured. When it happens, it's normal to feel frustration and pity. Marcus Tubbs was chopped down in his youth, leaving the Seahawks without a stud defensive tackle and Tubbs without a career. It's not rational to feel anger. Tubbs did not know of his injury, did not sucker Seattle into drafting him, and never stopped fighting for his career. Medical science is not yet advanced enough to predict injuries like Tubbs'. Medical science is not yet advanced enough to fix injuries like Tubbs'. It's misfortune, misfortune that cost Tubbs his dream and the Seahawks a great young player.

That is why it is unacceptable for a writer to sic his readers on the injured. Danny O'Neil is careful not to blame Branch for his injuries, but the implication of his piece "Deion Branch, the Erik Bedard of the Seahawks?" is that Branch is a burden and his acquisition a disaster. He compares Branch to Sisyphus' boulder*. It's unfair to Branch and unfair to general manager Tim Ruskell.

*Worst metaphor in sports.

Sisyphus had his rock, Seahawks fans have Deion Branch and every year you push yourself toward the possibility he'll be ready to contribute.

It's a convoluted metaphor I struggle to interpret, but I think O'Neil means rolling Branch is our punishment for tricking Persephone to release us from the underworld. Or was that losing the Sonics? I'll ask Zeus.

But if you're counting on Branch to contribute, you're spitting into the wind of history on that one.

In Branch's three seasons, one partially missed because of a contract hold out and one partially missed after recovery from an ACL tear, he has twice been Seattle's second leading receiver, and once their third leading receiver. The wind of history seems quite calm.

What was that old saying? Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me twice -- never fool me again? I seem to recall a president saying something like that.

Now, Branch isn't trying to fool anyone.

So why did you say it?

What is that old saying? It's better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

And for the past three years it's been possible to talk yourself into the idea that this is the year he might really be a contributor only to have him go down with an injury.

Let us see, in 2006 Seattle didn't attain Branch until the regular season and then he didn't miss a game because of injury. In 2007, he was injured and missed significant time. He's right there. In 2008, he was recovering from a major surgery. That is three seasons. Two in which no major contribution should have been expected. If the local media fools fans into thinking a hurt player will contribute, like they did last season with Branch, can we blame the player when the prediction is wrong?

Branch's number of receptions has declined for three successive seasons. Has the deal been as disastrous as the Mariners trade for Erik Bedard? There are some similarities to be certain since the biggest problem for both has been staying healthy. The Mariners gave up more to get Bedard while the Seahawks ponied up an open-market value contract in acquiring Branch.

With the second and third lines, O'Neil conflates the player acquired with that given to acquire him. This is illogical. The Seattle Mariners traded a blue chip prospect, a relief ace and three of its best pitching prospects for Bedard. In football terms, that would be like Seattle trading a top ten pick but paying 90% of the salary, Jordan Babineaux and three mid-round picks for Branch. That trade, like Bill Bavasi's trade for Bedard, would have been a failure upon completion. Bedard could not have lived up to the value of his trade and Branch could not have lived up to a similarly outlandish trade. But neither player should be blamed for the moves of their general manager. Bedard did not request the Mariners cripple their franchise to attain him. Bavasi insisted.

Branch has disappointed, but the trade made sense when it was made and is by no means burdensome now. His performance has compared to a receiver selected with that same pick. A few months ago I wrote:

Using the model provided by Advanced NFL Stats, we can make a reasonable guess. Branch would have been the fourth wide receiver drafted. The fourth wide receiver drafted's career averages about 530 yards per season and 4.7 seasons starting. Branch has averaged 599 yards per season over 32 starts and 33 games played. That 33 is of a possible 46. Branch was traded on September 11, 2006 and not capable of playing until week three.

Here's a golden rule in journalism, the farther you get into the story, the less likely the content is to be read. Comparing Branch to Bedard in the headline is unfair to both players. Comparing Branch to Sysphus' boulder is a poor metaphor and casts Branch as an endless burden. Referencing George Bush's infamous mangling of "fool me once" is picking on two easy targets, and suggests Branch is in some way at fault for his injuries. The retelling of Branch's injuries is filler and the closer comparing Branch to Bedard absurd and inaccurate. That comparison, bookending the article, is the lasting one.

The regular season starts today. Let's let the games tell the story, and hold off on picking scapegoats until we need them.

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