Even if the New Orleans Saints manage to snag a top-tier DE in free agency, they might look to make a couple bargain bin additions to the backend of the group.
And if so, Andre Branch will be someone on their radar. Now, mind you, Andre Branch would by no means by an answer for the Saints woes in pass-rush. But on a small contract, he could be part of the answer.
Branch has some of the tools you’d look for in a rush specialist. He’s long and fast. He’s got some instinctual awareness and is lean enough to find space between blockers.
But at the end of the day, he’s missing more than he provides. His lack of upper body strength limits him to finesse moves as a rusher, and he just doesn’t have enough moves in his arsenal. He can occasionally get a bullrush going, but that’s typically only when he turns the corner on stunts, or comes rushing in off a disguised blitz. And most damning for a player of his type, he simply lacks the bend to be a consistent threat around the edge.
Still could be an asset
All that said, I could still see the Saints pursuing Branch on a cheap contract. I’d compare him to Obum Gwachum in terms of body type. And the comparison allows for some solid insight.
Both players are lean, long, and fast. And both lack the ideal weight for a starting DE. Gwachum is possibly a better pass-rusher than Branch. And assuming the Saints land a talented defensive lineman before Branch, that could be a dealbreaker. If Branch’s role is to provide a rush on obvious passing downs, then Gwachum might be a better choice.
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But Gwachum missed all of 2016 with an undisclosed injury. There’s no telling whether or not it could be a serious, athletically limiting injury. It’s also possible that the injury was minor and the Saints simply didn’t like how Gwachum was developing, so they sent him to IR rather than released him. If that’s the case, it’s likely because Gwachum was struggling to show up in the run game.
And therein lies Branch’s advantage over Gwachum. Branch is by no means a run stuffer, but he knows to stay disengaged and is fast enough to track down runners from across the field. Gwachum, over his years in N.O., has always been somewhat of a liability in the run game. Branch could provide a more well-rounded option behind our eventual starter at DE.
Finally, Branch could provide solid ST depth. And the Saints have shown a willingness to spend money on ST in the past. With once ST-captain Michael Mauti’s career in doubt after stomach surgery, they could be in the market for some more athletes.
Branch would have to come cheap. But all indications are that he would.
Branch signed a one-year “prove-it” deal with Miami last year worth about $2.5 million. No doubt he figured a year with Suh and that DL would give him ample opportunity to pad his stats. Unfortunately, although he saw the most playing time of his career, he failed to put up career numbers.
That would land him somewhere along the lines of what Nick Fairley managed with the Saints in 2016. And at that price, the Saints may very well take a swing on the 6th year vet.
Whether or not Branch is looking for another “prove-it” deal or for a longterm contract, $3 million should be a fair asking price.
Consider that the Saints have shown a willingness to spend around $3 million a year on contracts for ST players. Branch fits that mold, and provides depth at a position that is currently one of the weakest on the roster.
If the Saints come out of free agency with only Andre Branch to show for it at DE, things went terribly wrong somewhere along the way. But if they can pull in a more talented player in front of him, I’d be very happy with Andre Branch coming in as depth and for Special Teams.