Patriots

Gaffney’s Addition Could Mean Departure Of Ochocinco Or Branch

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco (Photos via Getty Images)

Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco (Photos via Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — Despite already having too many players at the position, Bill Belichick and the Patriots went out and signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. That should tell you all you need to know about how well they imagine the veteran Gaffney to fit in with Tom Brady’s offense.

It should also tell you that when Week 1 in Tennessee rolls around, the Patriots might have no other choice but to be without either Chad Ochocinco or Deion Branch.

That is based on the safe assumption that the Patriots and Wes Welker either agree to a long-term deal or come to an agreement that gets Welker to sign his franchise tender. Once Welker’s officially a part of the team, he’ll join free-agent additions Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez in the receiving corps, along with Julian Edelman, Tiquan Underwood, Ochocinco, Branch and seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert.

That’s nine guys. In a sport that requires five linemen and a quarterback, and on a team that has two of the best tight ends in the entire league, nine guys is a few too many.

Obviously, players like Underwood and Ebert could be passed over for proven veterans, so they won’t stand in the way of more talented players making the final roster (UPDATE: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Underwood has already been cut). Still, how much money can the Patriots have invested in the receiving corps?

With Ochocinco restructuring his contract to lower his base salary from $3 million to $1 million this offseason, he ensured himself the chance to remain on the roster at least until the summer. Even before Gaffney was added, Ochocinco was going to have to show the team something to believe that last year’s 15-catch season was an aberration, rather than a sign of a sharp decline of a receiver entering his mid-30s. With Gaffney aboard, the odds may be stacked against him to make it out of training camp.

Branch, for his part, had a mostly successful 2011 season, catching 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns. The veteran has a unique connection with Brady and is someone the Patriots would undoubtedly like to have on the team, but he’ll turn 33 in July, has a history of struggling to stay healthy and looks to get a step slower with each passing season. Is he going to be a better option than Stallworth or Gaffney?

Whatever happens, we know two things. One, between now and Sept. 9, there will have to be some change to the receiving corps on this team, because there simply won’t be enough room for everybody. And two, if Belichick’s decision comes down to saying goodbye to either Ochocinco or Branch, he’ll either have to push out a pop culture star that people just seem to love or a proven Patriot with 312 catches in a New England uniform.

The Patriots may be better off with younger, more capable receivers, but such an upgrade will certainly come with a cost.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter@michaelFhurley.

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