BOSTON (CBS) — Despite the fact that he caught just 16 total passes in 16 games for the Patriots, Chad Ochocinco always managed to be a big story in New England. Never before has such an insignificant player generated more headlines, more hours of sports radio debate and more fan discussion than Ochocinco, even though he accounted for exactly six of the Patriots’ 547 points last season.
Unfortunately for Ochocinco, he won’t be making headlines in New England this summer, after the Patriots released him on Thursday afternoon after unsuccessfully attempting to trade him.
That no other NFL team was willing to give anything up to acquire the services of an 11-year veteran with 766 catches, more than 11,000 yards and 67 touchdowns tells you all you need to know about just how badly the Ocho-in-New England experiment failed.
That fact is not surprising, really, but the reasons for it certainly weren’t what most expected. If anything, it was assumed that the trade for Ochocinco last summer was risky only for fear that he may misbehave or become the dreaded “off-the-field distraction” that his reputation said he might be. Instead, Ochocinco was a model citizen, hardly talking to the media and never acting out on the field in a way that put himself ahead of the team.
Of course, there’s a reason he wasn’t able to do anything wrong, and it’s because he couldn’t manage to ever stay on the field for longer than one play at a time. For every step forward, he took five steps back. For every catch made, there were wrong routes run, or passes dropped, and so on and so forth. The most damaging part of Ochocinco’s struggles was that most of the time, he didn’t know where he was supposed to be. He’d break the huddle and run to the wrong side of the field. In the no-huddle, he’d jog toward the line to ask Tom Brady where he’s supposed to go and what he’s supposed to do.
To put it simply, the guy couldn’t do anything right.
To try to understand why would involve nothing but guesswork. He seemed intent on arriving in New England and doing everything in his power to earn the trust of Brady and Bill Belichick. Physically, he never appeared limited, and in the brief instances when he did contribute, he looked very much like the wide receiver he had been for the previous decade.
Alas, those moments were all too rare, and the Patriots had no other choice but to move on (thankfully saving us from three months of “WILL THE PATS CUT OCHOCINCO?!” fervor on the airwaves and Internet).
As for the Patriots, it’s unlikely they’ll struggle to replace the “production” of Ochocinco, considering they’ve added Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, and considering Wes Welker sometimes puts up bigger numbers in a single game than Ochocinco did all of last season.
But while the Patriots’ Ochocinco experiment will be remembered as a failure, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile — at least in the sense that it was worth the risk. They traded away a fifth- and sixth-round draft pick to get him last year, just one season after the offense finished 11th in the league with just 240 yards per game. That year, in 2010, after the early-season trade of Randy Moss, the offense consisted of Welker, half a season of Deion Branch, and two young tight ends that hadn’t yet blossomed into superstars. That was it. The Patriots clearly needed a shot in the arm at receiver, so they added Ochocinco. Even though retrospect said they were looking in the wrong place, the decision to acquire a potentially disruptive player in order to address a need was a perfectly fine approach for the Patriots.
Fortunately for the team, the injection of life which they sought came from Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, thereby making Ochocinco’s futility a non-factor, as the Pats improved to 317.8 passing yards per game.
Next year, the offense will almost certainly be even better than 2011. The Ochocinco “era” in New England is over, and the Patriots are going to be just fine. The only things the Patriots will lose are a few headlines.