The Patriots also released center Dan Koppen to get down to the NFL limit of 53 for the opener at Tennessee on Sept. 9.
Branch, 33, took to Twitter on Friday to bid adieuto his fans.
“Truly thankful for all the support from everybody. I Love You guys (hash)LovePeaceandHappiness,” the wide receiver wrote.
Branch had spent all or parts of six seasons in New England, recording 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns in 15 starts last year. He has 502 receptions for 6,499 yards and 39 touchdowns in his career. Branch’s spot on the team appeared safe after the Patriots cut receivers Donte’ Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney earlier this week.
The release of Branch and Koppen leaves the Patriots with just two players from their last Super Bowl championship team in 2005 in quarterback Tom Brady and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
Branch was a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots, and was named MVP of their victory over Philadelphia after tying a Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 133 yards.
He was the first receiver to win the honor since San Francisco’s Jerry Rice (1989). He then spent four injury-plagued seasons with Seattle before returning to New England during the 2010 season.
Because of his status as a vested NFL veteran, Branch was given his outright release rather than being placed on the waiver wire. If he doesn’t go elsewhere, Branch could be re-signed by the Patriots after Week 1 of the regular season when his base salary would no longer be guaranteed for the entire year. It’s unlikely, but this would give the Patriots both roster and salary-cap flexibility in case they chose to release Branch again later in the season in another roster move.