|Tyvon Branch escapes the franchise tag and gets his long-term contract. (Getty Images)|
Safety Tyvon Branch has agreed to terms with the Raiders on a four-year deal reports CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora, who adds that the deal has a base maximum of $26.6 million, and could be worth $28 million with incentives. Branch will make $16.1 million in the first two years of the deal with $17.6 million, guaranteed in all -- one of the highest totals ever for a safety.
In total, 66 percent of the deal is guaranteed, and it includes lower base salaries and roster bonuses of $1 million or more due early in the league year, so the player is protected in the long and short term.
The team used the franchise tag on Branch in March, which allowed running back Michael Bush, once thought to be a franchise-tag option, to hit free agency. (Bush landed with the Bears where he was signed as insurance in case their franchise player, Matt Forte, doesn't report on time while looking for his new deal.)
Without a new contract, Branch was expected to earn $6.2 million under the franchise tag, which is $2.2 million below the going rate for franchised safeties in 2011, a consequence of the collective bargaining agreement's new formula for determining the position-by-position tag value.
By agreeing to a four-year contract (most franchise players sign for five years), Branch can hit free agency before he turns 30. He joins Saints quarterback Drew Brees as franchised players to reach long-term deals with their respective teams over the weekend. La Canfora has noted previously that there may not be much progress elsewhere around the league; the aforementioned Forte and the Bears have made some headway, but names like Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and Cliff Avril are less likely to secure new deals before Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Branch, meanwhile, is a former fourth-round pick out of Connecticut. He came out of college as a cornerback and caught the Raiders' interest in part because he ran a 4.31 at the combine. His pre-draft scouting report explains how the college cornerback ended up as an NFL safety:
"Despite his impressive 40 time and success as a kick returner, Branch struggles changing directions. An instinctive, physical defensive back, Branch is best suited to playing cornerback in a two-deep scheme or making the transition to free safety."
Branch has started every game since 2009, and had 109 tackles, four passes defended, a sack and an interception last season. CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco wrote in March that Branch "should have been on the Pro Bowl team last year. He had an impressive season at a weak position in the NFL. It makes sense for the Raiders to keep him."
And that's exactly what they've done.
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