The phrase, “Next Man Up,” gets thrown around a lot in today’s sports culture. Naturally, when San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon on May 21, the general sentiment immediately turned to the rest of the depth chart.
In other words: Next Man Up.
The difference this season is that the 49ers aren’t at midseason with limited options as they have been in previous years. Training camp has yet to officially kick off, which leaves several possibilities at the 49ers’ disposal. And one option the team should strongly consider is bringing back former San Francisco draftee Brandon Lloyd.
With full disclosure, I’ve always been a fan of Lloyd and despised the trade that originally sent him to the Washington Redskins all the way back in 2006. However, this isn’t about personal bias as much as it has to do with Lloyd’s career turnaround and the 49ers' WR situation minus an emerging Crabtree.
Offseason acquisition Anquan Boldin was lights out for the Baltimore Ravens in last year’s playoffs, and he should provide a very reliable target for Colin Kaepernick. But behind Boldin, there isn’t much more than uncertainty, albeit with great potential.
Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both coming off of torn ACLs from late last season. And for all the hype surrounding 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins, rookie Quinton Patton and newcomer Ricardo Lockette, that triumvirate boasts an overall career total of two receptions.
The 2013 Niners are all about Super Bowl or bust, but this is also the third straight season plagued by injuries to the receiving corps. Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith at quarterback last season to bring more explosive potential to the offense, but he'll need weapons to do that.
To that end, Lloyd is easily the best free-agent wideout left on the market, and his ability to turn a big play has long been his trademark in the NFL. In 2012, his lone season in New England, Lloyd finished with 74 receptions, 911 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers topped all 49ers receivers not named Crabtree, including Boldin and TE Vernon Davis.
Lloyd has been regarded for his ability to stretch the field and make the circus catch, which could help open up the 49ers offense. With so many young, potentially game-breaking wide receivers developing in San Francisco, Lloyd's experience could also make him a great mentor.
Lloyd also makes sense from a financial standpoint after the contract extension recently signed by defensive lineman Justin Smith. Smith's restructured contract gives San Francisco $6.4 million in cap space for 2013, which is more than enough to make a roster move (h/t Yahoo! Sports).
Considering the current stage of free agency and the status of the 49ers as a contender, Lloyd could be expected to sign a deal with a low cap hit and incentives. No one has been banging down the door for the 32-year-old receiver, but his numbers last year show that he can still contribute for a good offensive team.
This far into an up-and-down career, Lloyd should be eager to prove his worth this season and would likely have a chip on his shoulder following his release from the Patriots. And most importantly, should Lloyd fizzle out or prove no better than his younger teammates, the Niners could easily cut ties and move forward with the future.
The reality is, the 49ers don't know when Crabtree, Manningham or Williams will return to the field, or how they will perform when they do. Crabtree recently revealed that he is beginning his rehab process but is still a few months away from seeing the field, according to NBCSports.
With so much on the line this season, it's hard to trust such an unseasoned group of wideouts to help orchestrate Jim Harbaugh's offense. We've all seen how much that can hurt the offense in the past.
For the right price, Lloyd would certainly add another proven commodity to the 49ers' Super Bowl equation.
All statistics referenced in this article, unless otherwise noted, according to NFL.com.
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