Not every free-agent signing can be a big-name player in his prime or even a player who was a key contributor to his former team the prior season. Often, the job of an NFL personnel department is to sift through the rubble of players cut by other organizations or simply told they were no longer wanted when free agency comes around, looking for a gem or two who could be useful to them.
The Giants don't have a starting safety on their roster. Veterans Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are unrestricted free agents. Youngsters Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor are unproven and untried.
Branch, 28, is a seven-year veteran strong safety who was let go last week by the Raiders after a pair of injury-plagued seasons. He has played only five games the past two seasons. In 2013, he broke an ankle. In 2014, he suffered a broken foot.
From 2009-2012, however, Branch played in 62 of 64 games. SB Nation's Raiders web site, Silver and Black Pride, said that during that time Branch "was considered one of the better strong safeties in the NFL."
Branch had more than 100 tackles in all three of his 16-game seasons, and had 94 when he played 14 games in 2012. He is a 6-foot, 210-pounder from Syracuse who played collegiately at Connecticut.
NFL.com says Branch "will have a market" because he "offers a potential that will pique the interest of others." When healthy, Branch was a sure tackler and appears to have been a useful blitzer.
Here are Branch's Pro Football Focus grades from his four full seasons as a starter:
- 2009: +6.6 overall (+0.6 vs. run, +2.4 vs. pass)
- 2010: -0.2 overall (+2.5 vs. run, -10.3 vs. pass)
- 2011: +7.6 overall (+9.6 vs. run, +1.3 vs. pass)
- 2012: +3.3 overall (+1.5 vs. run, -0.3 vs. pass)
On a one-year "prove it" type deal could Branch provide some insurance for the Giants in the event that Rolle does not return and the young safeties are unable to grasp their opportunities?