Will 'rebound' year be enough for Ocho?

In an open letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell posted on his OCNN website, Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco opines on some of the NFL's percolating player-safety and health issues while noting "we are at a crucial point in the history of football."

At the end, he wrote, "Am having a rebound year and plan to do a lot of celebrating in the end zone. Can my fine money go to supporting ex-players suffering?"

Ochocinco totaled 15 receptions last season in his first New England season, which he acknowledged was a disappointment. Now he's facing an uphill climb for a 2012 roster spot.

When looking at the Patriots' receiving corps, the locks are Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. After that, it will be an exciting competition, as noted by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Friday.

Deion Branch, last year's No. 2, would seem to have an edge on Ochocinco. He outplayed Ochocinco in 2011, logging 76 percent of the team's offensive snaps, a number the coaching staff probably wasn't anticipating but became a reality in part because of Ochocinco's struggles (Ochocinco played 26 percent).

Jabar Gaffney, the productive No. 3 receiver from 2006 through 2008, returns after three years away. Given Tom Brady's affection for Gaffney, and Gaffney's ability to line up at all receiver spots, he also appears to have more value than Ochocinco.

In that case, Ochocinco, who sliced his base salary from $3 million to $925,000 in 2012, could be vying for a No. 5 receiver spot (special-teams captain Matthew Slater is a lock but isn't factored into this offensive-based analysis).

That's when these questions could come into play:

Is he more valuable than Julian Edelman? Edelman served as the team's primary punt returner in 2011, and performed well. That special-teams value is something Ochocinco doesn't provide.

Is his style of play a better complement than that of Donte' Stallworth? Ochocinco doesn't threaten the field vertically like Stallworth, but as Welker said earlier this year, he's one of the best when it comes to comeback routes.

Will Anthony Gonzalez/Jeremy Ebert slot insurance be a factor? With Welker possibly playing under the franchise tag, and thus facing an uncertain future with the club, the Patriots could lean toward keeping another slot receiver with the future in mind.

Add it all up and Ochocinco could have a tough time making the club, meaning his rebound might have to come with another team.