The New England Patriots are short one at the receiver position, and it's a gaping hole the team must fill immediately.
Patriots release veteran WR Brandon Lloyd: bit.ly/15SVxRG— New England Patriots (@Patriots) March 16, 2013
Lloyd never amounted to the kind of deep threat New England had hoped for, but he still put up solid numbers nonetheless. In his only season with the team, Lloyd caught 74 passes for 911 yards and four touchdowns.
The reason for the release of Lloyd at this time was because the 31-year-old was due a $3 million roster bonus (per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com), and obviously the Patriots had no intention of paying it.
Losing Lloyd would be a huge blow to the Pats offense if they can't replace him.
His departure would leave New England thin at the receiver position with only newly signed Danny Amendola and Donald Jones being legit targets for quarterback Tom Brady to throw to aside from the team's two star tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
That simply won't be enough to support the kind of high-powered passing attack the Patriots enjoyed a year ago. New England finished No. 4 in the NFL in passing yards per game, and it proved to be a successful piece of its offense as the team finished 12-4 during the regular season.
Filling this new hole on the Pats offense could be as simple as bringing Lloyd back at a discounted price. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com believes New England could potentially bring him back even after the release:
One thing that may be holding that back is the fact that Lloyd's behavior hasn't gone over well in the locker room.
Greg A. Bedard of The Boston Globe reported last month that the Pats may not be interested in bringing Lloyd back at all because, "Lloyd’s erratic behavior in the locker room and on the practice field proved tiresome, according to a league and team source."
So if that's the case and Lloyd is truly done in New England, the Pats do have another option after meeting with Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free-agent receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.
However, prying away restricted free agents is never an easy thing to do, and the Pats will likely have to frontload the contract in order to scare the Steelers away. Rapoport also reported that Sanders has yet to sign an offer sheet with New England after the visit, so nothing is close to imminent as of yet.
Emmanuel Sanders still hasn't signed an offer sheet from Pats. No reason to do so before 4 pm deadline and give Steelers extra time to match— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 16, 2013
Sanders would be the perfect option to replace Lloyd since he's a threat to make big plays deep. For the Steelers last season, Sanders caught 44 passes for 626 yards and a score. At the age of 26, Sanders is young enough to be a long-term solution at the position for New England.
Releasing Lloyd is very understandable on the Pats' side of things, but it still leaves them in a dangerous position.
Again, signing a restricted free agent away from his team is a difficult thing to do, and if the Pats fail to do so, they could also lose Lloyd, who will garner interest from other teams around the league as the top free-agent receiver left on the market.
New England is surrounded by uncertainty at the moment and must make an aggressive play for Sanders to shore things up in the receiving corps. If they can't and Lloyd finds a new home sooner rather than later, the Patriots will be very short at the receiver position next season.