In an offseason where the New England Patriots brought five new wide receivers to Foxboro, it goes without saying that a gritty position battle would soon ensue. And on Tuesday, Anthony Gonzalez became the first casualty.
Gonzalez, a sixth-year veteran, was signed barely three months ago on March 17 but was absent during last week’s OTAs.
The roster move became just another hurdle for Gonzalez. After being selected in the first-round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, the wide receiver was off to a promising start totaling 94 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons. Due to multiple knee injuries, Gonzalez landed on injured reserve in both ’09 and ’10. Last year he appeared in eight games but went without registering a catch.
With one contender gone, the battle only intensifies.
Along with Gonzalez, the Pats also brought in veterans Jabar Gaffney, Donte’ Stallworth, and Brandon Lloyd this offseason. In addition, the team also resigned Deion Branch and franchise tagged Wes Welker.
A position thin last season, receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater seemed to spend more time on defense than offense last season, is now bulging with talent and experience.
Gaffney and Stallworth are both familiar with the team. Gaffney previously spent time with New England from 2006 to 2008 and quickly built a strong rapport with quarterback Tom Brady. Stallworth played alongside Gaffney in his sole season with the team in 2007.
And then there is Lloyd. A journeyman in his first few years in the league, with stints in San Francisco, Washington, and Chicago; Lloyd signed with Denver in 2009 and broke out in 2010 under current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, then the Broncos head coach.
In that season, Lloyd brought in 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. Leading the league in receiving yards that season, he earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
The following season, McDaniels was fired and resurfaced as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator. Four games into last season, Lloyd was traded to St. Louis, reuniting with McDaniels and leading the team in all receiving categories with 51 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns.
Where McDaniels goes, so goes Lloyd, and Lloyd has flourished in McDaniels’ offenses. And he’s never played with a quarterback has talented as Tom Brady.
Now in New England, Lloyd was the toast of OTAs, impressing those in attendance for the team workouts.
“It helps because I’m familiar with the offense,” Lloyd said in regards to transitioning to New England. “I’m familiar with the nuances of the offense so that definitely helps.”
And what about the famed “Patriot Way”?
“It’s been a good experience so far. The coaching, the way that the message is delivered and the way that the coaches and all the players all fall in line [that has stood out the most].”
Apparently head coach Bill Belichick has taken note too.
In a recent talk with Sirius XM NFL Radio, Belichick said, “Brandon is smart, he has very good hands and catch skills, and the ability to kind of take the ball out of a crowd or make that acrobatic catch when it seems like the defender is all over him.”
With such an influx of talent, it will be interesting to see what things look like at the season’s start.
The Patriots still have Wes Welker, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Britt Davis, and rookies Jeremy Ebert and Matt Roark on the roster.
Last year proved to be a disappointing one for the Patriots receiving corps, as Brady was forced to rely more on tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Welker had a league leading 122 catches, Branch had 51 catches, less than half of Welker’s total, and Ochocinco’s 15 receptions were a far cry from his 2010 total of 67.
And for Edelman and Slater? Both had more tackles then receptions.
There is still a lot of time before the season starts, and training camp is just on the horizon, but with the number of receivers in camp, the questions remains – who will be next?
Written By Nathan Rickard