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Ochocinco cut by Patriots

Receiver had continued trouble grasping playbook

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / June 8, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots released receiver Chad Ochocinco Thursday, ending a relationship that began 10 months ago with great promise and the veteran declaring he had arrived in “heaven.’’

Earlier in the day, Ochocinco was absent from the on-field portion of organized team activities. He was present for the prior two sessions the media had watched, and had been a steady presence at Gillette Stadium since teams were allowed to open facilities for workouts in March.

A league source said Ochocinco had reported to Gillette Thursday around 7 a.m. but left a short time later “in a hurry,’’ speeding along the access road away from the stadium and toward Route 1.

The Patriots announced his release later in the day and Ochocinco, a prolific tweeter, acknowledged it with this post: “Thoroughly enjoyed the oppurtunity [sic] to play for the ‘Patriot’ organization . . . fans were [expletive] wicked awesome, I wish all of you the best. . .’’

Proving he has a sense of humor, he changed his bio from “New England Patriots WR’’ to “UNEMPLOYED BLACK GUY.’’

A second league source said last week Ochocinco still had it physically - he’s in great shape and is still fast - but continued to struggle with the playbook, which now includes new wrinkles added by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and simply was not on the same page with Tom Brady.

That he was still having some difficulties was evident during the first OTA session reporters were allowed to watch May 24: Ochocinco was the only player forced to run a penalty lap - for jumping offside - and at one point Deion Branch was spotted waving him into the proper position on the line of scrimmage, something that had to be done frequently last season.

A comment from Brady last week may also have foreshadowed the lingering problem.

“I have to trust in Deion and Wes [Welker] and all those guys out there to be in the right spot so I can play fast and anticipate what they’re doing,’’ Brady said. “If everyone is not on the same page, then it doesn’t work. A lot of what these [offseason] practices are about is everybody getting on the same page. The faster we can get up to speed and get better as a unit, the better we’re going to be.’’

Ochocinco, 34, now has ample time to latch on with another club. By all accounts, he was neither a bad teammate nor a distraction during his time in Foxborough, so it is unlikely those were factors in his release.

With 11 receivers on the roster, and despite Ochocinco agreeing to restructure his contract - he dropped it from a base of $3 million to the minimum for his level of NFL service time, $925,000 - he seemed a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

New England brought in Brandon Lloyd, who enjoyed success with McDaniels in Denver and St. Louis and seems to be off to a great start, and also brought back Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth.

Add the presence of Welker and Branch, plus special teams standouts Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman, who are receivers by trade, and Ochocinco faced long odds.

ESPN reported that New England tried to trade the Ochocinco but released him when there were no takers.

Because he’s been in the league for so long (entering his 12th season), Ochocinco does not have to go through waivers, and is immediately a free agent.

When Ochocinco was acquired from the Bengals at the start of training camp last season for a fifth-round pick in 2011 and sixth-rounder in ’12, Bill Belichick had made little secret of his fondness for him. Ochocinco was believed to be a precise route-runner, but league sources told the Globe last season that Ochocinco often freelanced with the Bengals, which irked quarterback Carson Palmer. But Palmer and Ochocinco had played together long enough the quarterback could often anticipate the receiver’s moves.

So when he came to New England, where the routes have names and aren’t numbered, and audibles and precision are required, Ochocinco couldn’t adapt.

Throughout his time with the Patriots, he was embraced by fans, who expected to see the colorful, dancing player they’d watched during his days as a Bengal. Early on, he suggested he would live with a fan until he found his own place (that never happened), tweeted about trying to find his way around Boston, and took an entire Emerson College social media class out to dinner to discuss how he’d built his personal “brand’’ via Twitter and other outlets.

Everyone, including his teammates, waited for a breakout game, but it never happened. He received $5.75 million in salary and bonuses, and in exchange New England received 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown.

Ochocinco may still have a couple of seasons left in him, but if he does, they’ll come in another team’s uniform.

Greg A. Bedard of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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