Patriots Shouldn’t Cut Chad Ochocinco, But Receiver Needs to Step Up His Game in a Big Way

Patriots Shouldn't Cut Chad Ochocinco, But Receiver Needs to Step Up His Game in a Big Way Editor's note: Each week, NESN.com's editorial staff will debate a topic via email in a feature called "Field Judges." We'll post the conversation and the ruling on NESN.com.

This week's question: Should the Patriots cut Chad Ochocinco?

Michael Hurley, Senior Assistant Editor, Monday, 1:45 p.m.

Hi friends,

It's everyone's favorite time of the week — that time when you all lose a debate to me.

Fortunately for all of you, I will take a step back as we begin this week's conversation, which will center around a certain wideout by the name of Chad Javon Johnson, more commonly known these days as Ochocinco.

He came to New England with plenty of fanfare, but he's been a bit player through three games. He has five catches for 87 yards, which averages out to 1.7 catches and 29 yards per game. He's tied for 147th in the league in catches and 106th in receiving yards. That may not be a big deal if it weren't for Ochocinco's celebrity status. He's caused quite a stir just by being himself thus far, with the Tedy Bruschi fiasco consuming a week's worth of Patriots coverage.

He also was singled out for his poor play on Sunday, when a lazy route resulted in an interception and when a surefire touchdown was simply dropped. It was an ugly game for a guy who can ill afford such afternoons.

So what should they do with the guy? Should they keep him around and hope he picks it up at some point, or should they cut him as soon as possible to open the door for either a younger option on the roster or a veteran free agent (who may or may not have dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants for Halloween in 2009)?

Let's hear what you all have to say.

John Beattie, Associate Editor, 1:57 p.m., Monday

Keep him around. He can serve as a decoy and snag two to four catches per game, being an important part of wins without racking up the points or being splattered throughout a box score. Despite disproving this theory on Sunday, he's their best deep threat and can open up the field once he catches on with TB12.

Ben Watanabe, Assistant Editor, 2:08 p.m., Monday

I say cut him, just to bring back the good ol' days when a guy would blow an assignment on kickoff coverage and Bill Parcells would cut him before they boarded the bus after the game. I'm pretty sure that was the only reason Troy Brown made the team initially, because Parcells cut the 19 guys ahead of him on the depth chart.

Michael Hurley, 4:03 p.m., Tuesday

I give him about two more games to prove he can contribute. Remember, he wasn't exactly an impact player last year in Cincinnati (67 catches, 831 yards, four touchdowns) and he was outshined by Terrell Owens, who is pushing 40 and isn't even in the league right now.

Of course, Deion Branch had zero catches on Sunday, and nobody's calling for him to be cut (rightfully so), so it's important to keep in mind the small sample size. But when you watch the game, Ochocinco looks to be a step behind in terms of knowing what play Tom Brady is calling and what route he should be running. He's had a few marginally big catches, and he's better than some of the younger options (at least we think so), so I'm willing to give him a few more weeks to prove he can play.

If he proves expendable, particularly upon Aaron Hernandez's return, then there's no harm in cutting him, maybe around the bye week.

Ben Watanabe, 4:08 p.m., Tuesday

We might be quibbling about semantics here, but I disagree that 67 catches for 831 yards doesn't make Ochocinco an "impact" player. He might not have been a high-impact player, but 27th in the NFL in receiving isn't poor. Seventy catches/800 yards is a more than respectable season for a wideout, and Ochocinco was right around that.

Michael Hurley, 4:28 p.m., Tuesday

Yes, semantics. Being "respectable" isn't flashy, and Ochocinco's a flashy guy. The persona leads you to expect bigger things from him. Think 38-year-old Deion Sanders playing for the Ravens. Only add a Twitter account and a Prius. And a reality show, and a bull-riding career, and a brief soccer career, and a Dancing With The Stars history. You get the point.

Jeff Howe, Patriots reporter, 4:28 p.m., Tuesday

Chad Ochocinco is far too talented, works far too diligently and has too high of a football aptitude to completely flop in New England. It's been ugly so far, for sure, and he hasn't had a long leash with the coaching staff, which they showed with a limited amount of snaps in Weeks 1 and 2.

They don't need him to perform at a high level just yet. Obviously, the Patriots acquired him with the thinking that he'd have it down in time for Week 1, but in reality, they just need him to be a useful part of the offense by the time they take on some elite defenses in games that really count. If the Patriots stay relatively healthy, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez and Branch are all better receiving options than Ochocinco. If more players start dropping, though, Ochocinco will need to step it up at a much quicker pace.

Ochocinco's roster spot should be perfectly secure throughout the 2011 season unless something wild happens and he becomes a distraction in the locker room. At this point, he hasn't shown any signs of that being a remote possibility.

And Randy Moss is not a better option. He might help someone's fantasy team more than Ochocinco, but Moss isn't the right guy for the efficiency of the offense or the makeup of the locker room. I think my feelings on Moss and the Patriots have been well-documented.

Ricky Doyle, Assistant Editor, 5:11 p.m., Tuesday

While I understand Ochocinco hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations that accompanied him when he first arrived in New England, I still feel like the idea of cutting him is simply a knee-jerk reaction.

First of all, I think expectations were too high to begin with. You can't really blame people for expecting Ochocinco to put up big numbers in his first season after watching Moss completely rejuvenate his career upon his arrival in 2007, but it's really an apple to oranges comparison. With that said, I expect his production to soon rise if Bill Belichick continues to slowly integrate him into the offense.

Ochocinco has looked a bit off when it comes to his route running, but I think that's something that's correctable. I also agree that three games is far too small of a sample size, especially when you consider it was a shortened offseason to begin with because of the lockout.

Ochocinco has been targeted only nine times in his three games. There's no doubt in my mind that those targets will increase before long, which will ultimately be reflected in his statistical output. As the Patriots' other threats — of which there are plenty — continue to produce at a high level, it should open up the field for Ochocinco to make plays in the long run. He's always had big-play capability and I don't think that's something that's just disappeared over night.

Also, had Ochocinco caught that over-the-shoulder touchdown pass on Sunday — which I would venture to say he does nine times out of 10 — I don't think his minimal production would be under as much scrutiny as currently it is. His numbers would certainly look better, and I don't think as many skeptics would be calling for his dismissal.

So, in short, everyone cool your Jets — and I ain't talkin' 'bout them boys from New York.

Mike Cole, Assistant Editor, 11:11 p.m., Tuesday

For a team that relies so heavily on the passing game, I don't think it would make too much sense for the Patriots to move on from the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson — at least not yet. We've already seen Hernandez go down. With all of those receptions going around, it's inevitable there will be injuries. It really can't hurt to have a veteran around to help shoulder the load.

Like I think both Hurley and Jeff touched on, if something comes up that makes the Patriots rethink Ochocinco's place on that team, then you revisit it then. For now, though, he isn't necessarily hurting your team, even if he's not giving you a ton.

I do think, however, it would be awesome if the Pats cut him after the season, and then re-sign him before training camp starts. Then, maybe Ochocinco will be in the need of another new roommate. Considering my lease runs through August and my roommates probably think I'm a slob, I may be in the market for a new roomie. I love video games, so Chad and I could be a natural fit.

Are those jokes old yet? I hope not.

Michael Hurley, 9:40 a.m., Wednesday

The defense of Chad is overwhelming, with some of you coming across as rational beings and others bordering on "Leave Britney alone!" status. In any case, it's time for Judge Hurley's ruling (I've always wanted to A, refer to myself as a judge, and B, use the third person).

RULING

It's clear that everyone in this debate is willing to give Ochocinco a little slack. Well, everyone except Ben, who just wants the zany days of Bill Parcells back. We all want those days back — just imagine, given what Parcells used to say about Terry Glenn, what he would say about Ochocinco.

As for everyone else, it seems as though Ochocinco should be afforded a full season to prove his value, which he's yet to do through three games.

Oh, and the final ruling, Mike Cole, is that yes, those jokes are far, far too old.

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