Bill Belichick loves competition and he's done a great job creating it this offseason - particularly at wide receiver. The team currently has 11 wideouts under its control, ranging from apparent locks such as Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd to seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert.
Filtering through the depth chart is not an easy task, especially at such a ridiculously early stage. With almost three months still left before training camp even begins, handicapping the race for jobs is almost impossible - but we'll try to do it anyway.
For the purposes of our debate we're going to assume (always dangerous) that four players should reasonably be expected to stick around - Welker, Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch. The latter pair should by no means be considered roster locks at this point but their production and familiarity with the system put them ahead of the pack at this point. In truth, even Welker is a question mark given his franchise status and thus far refusal to sign the tender.
But for now we'll assume those four will open the season with the club. If that's the case, our Samsonite Make Your Case question this week is: Which of the remaining candidates has the best chance of sticking around?
PFW's Andy Hart says ... Chad Ochocinco
Call me naïve, but I think there is a chance Ochocinco-soon-to-be-Johnson has a chance to make the team. I'm holding out hope for the always popular Year Two jump in the Patriots system.
Ochocinco is a unique case. Most other veterans who've struggled to fit in with the Patriots offense have been shipped out of town. But Ochocinco is still around to fight for a job and prove himself. Given an entire year to digest the offense and the playbook, including an actual offseason to work with Tom Brady on the practice field, I think Ochocinco's hard work will finally pay off this summer.
Let's be honest, Ochocinco was a head case who over-thought every move he made on the field last year. He was thinking rather than playing. That never works. He'll be more comfortable now, and I still think he has the athletic ability to be a complementary player on this offense. And that's all he'll be asked to be. He doesn't have to be the big name or the big-play guy. Just come in and do the job as a fourth or fifth option in certain packages.
Ochocinco has been more productive more recently than both Anthony Gonzalez and Donte' Stallworth. He's been in the system for the last year, so he should (cross your fingers!) have a comfort advantage. And he's always been healthy in his career, which is another check mark on his side of the ledger.
Ochocinco took a big pay cut to stick around and fight for a job. I think that will pay off for both him and the team when he makes the 53-man roster out of training camp. He'll also be wearing the Johnson jersey in 2012, and maybe that will help him return to the productive days of yesteryear in Cincy. At least that's what I'm hoping for.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ... Julian Edelman
Anytime a team is deciding which players to keep at the bottom of the depth chart at any position versatility and potential have to come into play. To me, keeping Ochocinco as a fifth receiver is a complete waste of a roster spot because all he can do is provide and extra option as an outside receiver.
Edelman may not be as gifted a receiver (in fact I know he's not) as Ocho but he provides a lot more to the team. He can play in the slot where he'd serve as insurance in case Welker decides to sit out during the season. He also can return punts and kicks on special teams, and he even filled in capably as an extra defensive back last year.
Compare that potential to Ochocinco's limited contributions and I don't see how anyone would choose the veteran. The same could be said of both Anthony Gonzalez and Donte' Stallworth, both of whom are better receivers than Edelman but don't likely have as much to offer at this stage of their careers.
Now, if there's a chance for a bigger role on the offense due to an injury to one of the top guns, then I might change my tune and re-evaluate during training camp and see of Ochocinco has made the strides Andy is predicting. But it we're talking about an extra piece to the puzzle who won't likely be involved much on offense, then Edelman is the clear pick.
Now's your chance to cast your vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.