Ocho cuts his cost, will that help him avoid cut?

Ocho cuts his cost, will that help him avoid cut?
March 26, 2012, 1:08 am
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PALM BEACH - Chad Ochocinco is a 34-year-old wide receiver coming off a 15-catch season.

His football mortality looms and his grip on celebrity relevance is slipping.

On Sunday, his agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed that the once-brilliant player agreed to drop his contracted salary for 2012 from 3 million to 1 million. He realizes that he needs the Patriots more than they need him and - if he asked for his release - he may not find another taker.

Even a pay cut may not be enough to ensure Ochocinco a second season in New England. The Patriots have collected wide receivers since free agency began - Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez.

New England already has slot receiver Wes Welker and receiverdefensive backpunt returner Julian Edelman locked up. And they recently re-signed Deion Branch to a one-year deal.

It will be an open competition between Stallworth, Ochocinco and Gonzalez - and whoever else the Patriots bring in between now and training camp - for the final wideout roster spots.

Does anybody want to bet on Ocho winning that spot by knockout? Based on 2011, it doesn't seem likely.

With an entire season and a compressed training camp under his belt, Ochocinco was never able to gain the trust of Tom Brady or the Patriots' coaching staff.

New England tried to make it work. But the signs were bad almost from the start. A case of the drops early in training camp. Frustration between Tom Brady and Ocho apparent during open practices. Excuses from Ocho that he wasn't up to speed. A key drop during a game in Buffalo. A lack of production even when Brady tried to force feed him against the Giants (5 targets, 0 catches) near midseason. He was targeted with just 11 throws over the final eight regular-season games.

He was less productive as a wideout than even washout Brandon Tate.

Rosenhaus put a positive spin on it Sunday at the NFL Owners Meetings at The Breakers Hotel.

"(Ochocinco) wanted to come back for all the reasons he was excited about being a part of the team last year - great coach, great quarterback," said Rosenhaus. "He's very confident that - with another offseason - he can contribute a lot more. I think the key for Chad is that he wanted to come back, wants to have a great offseason, wants to do everything he can to study and learn it and have a great year. He obviously enjoyed winning but there's one more game left for him."

Rosenhaus was referring to the Super Bowl. Ocho had one catch for the Patriots in that game back in February.

He has been the definition of a team player during his time in New England. He's worked hard and said all the right things, even as he fell into extreme disuse. He was humbled by the fact he was left at the station while the Patriots' offense rumbled on without him, but he never acted out.

It's not a leap to believe that some of his good soldier mentality is borne from his wanting to keep his all-important brand intact. As an entertainer, Ocho had a great year. Paroled from NFL Siberia in Cincinnati where he had to act outrageously to attract attention, Ocho didn't want for being an object of intrigue even when he did nothing on the field.

Even if he's making less money and doing less on the football field than he ever has, being a part of the Patriots has been a good business move for him.

But it hasn't been a good business move for the Patriots. New England gave him a 4.75 million signing bonus in 2011 and a 1 million salary.

The team is already 5.75 million deep with him and - if he's on the opening day roster in 2012, they'll be 6.75 million deep.

There was much talk about the fact that the Patriots would "pay" Ocho the same amount if they released him as if he played for them in 2012. That's inaccurate.

His salary cap hit in 2012 if he were released prior to June 1 would have been the 3.17 million that hasn't been charged to the Patriots cap. but that's just bookkeeping. He's already been paid the 4.75 million bonus. The remaining money that would hit the cap is simply the money remaining on the bonus that hasn't been charged to the cap.

And if the Patriots choose to designate him as a post-June 1 cut, that 3.17 million would be trimmed to cap hits of about 1.58 million in 2012 and 2013. Again, just bookkeeping.

Now he's working for just a little more than the veteran minimum. As much as the Patriots laud his attitude, his lack of production can't be offset by the fact he simply tries hard.

The Patriots will ultimately be the Patriots and if Ocho can't perform, they will cut him. The question that hangs though, is whether Ocho can continue to be "not-Ocho," keeping quiet and accepting a tiny role that may be snuffed out at any moment.

It worked in 2011 when he was flush with excuses and an infusion of bonus cash. Can he pull that off again? And can he turn back time and be a productive receiver again?

The answers to both questions will come in the ensuing four months.