BOSTON (CBS) — Chad Ochocinco’s image is very much intact. His place on the Patriots’ roster? Not so much.
For now, though, the veteran receiver is safe, after he agreed to lower his base salary for the 2012 season from around $3 million down to $1 million. It’s a move that shows Ochocinco is serious about his desire to play and win in New England, but it’s also one that shows he had no other options.READ MORE: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine 'Particularly Good For Mass Vaccination Campaigns,' Boston Doctor Says
As you know by now, Ochocinco, 34, finished the entire season with 15 catches for 276 yards and one lonely touchdown. Wes Welker made 16 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns in one single game in Week 3 this year against the Bills (he also added 19 rushing yards, seemingly for good measure). In the playoffs, Ochocinco was a target of Tom Brady just once, which was four fewer than Julian Edelman and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and five fewer than Danny Woodhead.
To put it simply, Ochocinco was not a part of the Patriots’ offense last year, and there’s no guarantee he’ll even get that chance next season. The fact that he was willing to take a pay cut should make that very clear.
On the one hand, the pay cut does back up Ochocinco’s words. He’s said countless times since he was traded to New England that he’s done everything else, and now the only thing left to do is be part of a Super Bowl-winning team. That’s no joke, and it really does seem genuine, so it can’t be completely overlooked.
At the same time, accepting a salary that’s only slightly more than the veteran minimum indicates that there is simply no market for a receiver in his mid-30s who looked incapable of adjusting to a new offense and became an afterthought by the second half of the season. If Ochocinco and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, rejected the Patriots’ request to restructure the contract, Rosenhaus likely knew that the free-agent market, already rich with receivers, would not be kind to Ochocinco. Just look at Ochocinco’s former teammate, Terrell Owens, who outperformed Ochocinco in 2010 (72 receptions, 983 yards, nine touchdowns in 14 games), but was unable to find any team willing to take a chance on him in 2011 due to a torn knee ligament. Now Owens, who ranks second in NFL history in receiving yards and touchdowns, is catching passes for Allen Wranglers.
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For Ochocinco, a similar fate really might not be far off. The reality is this: With Welker getting the franchise tag, Deion Branch re-signing and Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez signing as free agents, there was a zero percent chance of the Patriots keeping Ochocinco on the roster for $3 million. At $1 million, he’s increased his chances, but still, not by much.READ MORE: Police Search Woods After Man Fired BB Gun Behind Salem Walmart
In an offense that scored the third-most points in the NFL and gained the second-most yards, Ochocinco was rarely a contributor. Now, he’ll have to fight with three new additions for a spot on the roster. Stallworth’s coming off a similarly disappointing season (22 catches, 309 yards, two touchdowns), but that was playing with John Beck and Rex Grossman as his quarterback. Stallworth has done it before in this offense (46-697-3 in 2007), and that’s a big part of why the Patriots went after him in free agency. Lloyd has been at his best when playing for Josh McDaniels, and that reunion — with the addition of Brady — is expected to go swimmingly.
The odds are really stacked against Ochocinco to make any positive movement at all on the depth chart.
With Ochocinco, it’s important to remember that his issues in the New England offense go much deeper than statistics. The Patriots’ offense is at its absolute best when Brady is operating the no-huddle. It was nearly unstoppable this past season, yet Ochocinco was almost never a part of it. He looked incapable of ever staying on the field for more than two or three plays at a time, and even then, he would break the huddle and run to the wrong side of the field, or he would need Brady to run to him and specifically tell him what to do. It was at times disastrous, and other times inconceivable that a great player with a decade of NFL experience could look like a rookie again and again. Yet, it did, and got to the point where he averaged just 0.5 receptions and 14 yards per game from Week 6 until the end of the season.
Of course, undying Ochocinco supporters will point to his 21-yard reception in the Super Bowl, or that he hasn’t been a distraction in the locker room, as evidence that he deserves to stay. However, this is Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Tiquan Underwood wasn’t causing any problems in the locker room, but he was still cut the day before the Super Bowl. It was what the football team needed to do. Brandon Tate wasn’t a locker room distraction, but he was shown the door. Albert Haynesworth, the other big-name acquisition last summer, wasn’t too much of a problem in the locker room, but he was useless on the defensive line. Cut. James Sanders not only wasn’t a problem, but he was a big contributor on defense. He, too, was cut, for football reasons.
With Belichick, you only get so many chances to prove your worth to the team. Once it becomes clear that you’re either overpaid or taking up a roster spot that could be put to better use.
By taking his pay cut, Ochocinco will at least have one more chance, but the outlook for the $1 million Ochocinco making the team isn’t a whole lot better than that of $3 million Ochocinco doing the same. That $2 million simply bought everyone a little more time.MORE NEWS: Wellesley Man Killed In Ipswich Mountain Bike Crash
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