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Release of Brandon Lloyd concludes year of unfulfilled hopes with Patriots

03.16.13 at 4:38 pm ET

With Brandon Lloyd, there’s no easy answer. You look at his numbers — 74 catches, 911 yards, four touchdowns — and when you consider he was the third (or even the fourth) option in the New England passing game over the course of the 2012 season, it’s hard to say he failed in the Patriots’ system.

But the receiver, who followed Josh McDaniels to New England prior to the start of 2012 out of a sense of loyalty to his former head coach in Denver and offensive coordinator in St. Louis, simply may not have been the receiver the Patriots thought they were getting. In the spring and summer, players and coaches raved about his abilities. He showed an extraordinary connection and grasp of the offense early on. But when the games began, it seemed like he struggled to fit into New England passing game.

It wasn’t as much of a struggle as it was for Chad Ochocinco, who approached the entire 2011 season like he was playing Jenga, afraid of making everything collapse. Instead, Lloyd just appeared to be an odd fit at times.

While New England was looking for a deep threat, Lloyd either didn’t get much of an opportunity to show what he could do when it came to getting behind a defense, or the Patriots didn’t use him properly — his 12.3 yards per catch was the lowest for a full season for the course of his career. And there clearly were times where he was underwhelming, including seven games where he finished with three catches or fewer. Part of that is on the offensive game plan, but it’s hardly the sort of thing you’re looking for from someone who was targeted 130 times over the course of the year.

(That’s not even taking into account his YAC numbers. It one of the strangest statistical anomalies in recent Patriots history, Lloyd’s yards after catch numbers were shockingly low. He finished the season with 180 yards after catch, the second-lowest total of any pass catcher with at least 900 total receiving yards this year. In a passing game where receivers usually post tremendous YAC numbers — by way of comparison, Wes Welker had 619 YAC, best in the league, and Rob Gronkowski had 305 YAC, fourth in the league among tight ends — it was weird.)

That’s not to say it was necessarily Lloyd’s fault — he is who he is, after all, and he had moments of true brilliance over the course of the season, including a nine-catch, 108 yard effort in September against the Ravens and a 10-catch, 190-yard outing in December against the Niners. He came to New England with a particular skill set, and it was a mistake for the Patriots to try and turn him into something he wasn’t.

Ultimately, it could have been a case of trying to bang a square peg into a round hole. If it was a bad fit, that’s squarely on McDaniels, who spent considerable time with Lloyd prior to this season in New England and helped him evolve from JAG status to elite-level receiver. (Lloyd never topped 30 receptions over the first seven seasons of his career — but after connecting with McDaniels, in his two years before coming to Foxboro, he averaged 74 catches a game the last two years.) If anyone knew how to properly maximize Lloyd’s abilities, it should have been him.

If Lloyd does return to New England at a reduced rate, going forward, both sides would do well to meet in the middle with a greater sense of realistic expectations. (For what it’s worth, the move simply means the two sides were unable to agree to a restructured deal before his roster bonus was due. This could be a nifty way for the Patriots to avoid paying that $3 million bonus, and get him back at a reduced rate somewhere down the road.) But if this is the end for Lloyd in Foxboro, he leaves with an appropriately mixed legacy and a sense of unfulfilled potential.

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