Number 85 hasn't been kind to Patriots wide receivers the last two seasons.
After releasing Chad Johnson last year, the New England Patriots brought in Brandon Lloyd as a free agent. Lloyd was expected to serve as Tom Brady's deep threat, and help New England's passing game become more vertical. Now, the Patriots are debating whether or not to release Lloyd, according to an NFL.com report -- and the former Illinois receiver could find himself as a free agent in the coming weeks.
Lloyd is due $3 million in roster bonuses this offseason.
Despite succeeding in Josh McDaniels' offense in previous years, Lloyd disappointed in New England, catching 74 passes (on 130 targets) for 911 yards and four touchdowns. Throughout the entire season, it appeared that Brady and Lloyd struggled to develop chemistry -- and often times, it appeared that the two just weren't on the same page..
Just last week, it seemed like a realistic possibility that Tom Brady would lose both Wes Welker and Lloyd, and that the Patriots would have a significantly different wide receiver corps headed into 2013.
While it's still possible that the Patriots lose Welker in free agency and cut Lloyd, it seems like, at the least, Welker has a very good chance of remaining in Foxboro after Brady's contract extension.
Instead of losing Lloyd, the Patriots now have a chance to upgrade him -- again, thanks to Brady's contract extension, which saved the Patriots $15 million in cap space over the next two years.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport mused earlier that the Patriots could decide to pursue Mike Wallace with the new-found money, all the while keeping Welker. Bill Belichick has spoken kindly about Wallace in the past, and before New England's 2011 regular season contest against the Steelers, Belichick noted that "nobody is going to catch Wallace."
The only ingredient missing from New England's offense is a legitimate vertical threat, who can burn a defense deep with speed and big-play ability. Lloyd never turned into that receiver, but Lloyd also isn't as fast or talented as Wallace. Adding Wallace to an offense that boasts Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Stevan Ridley and Brady -- well, the Patriots could end up with an offense even more dynamic than the one it had in 2007.
Wallace will enter the prime of his career in 2013, as the speedy wide receiver will turn 27 years old in August. Wallace had a down year in 2012, after holding out for a long-term contract which never materialized, and potentially cost himself money on the free-agent market. Last year, Wallace caught 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2011, Wallace caught 72 passes, but had 1,193 yards.
Belichick may opt to pursue another wide receiver in free agency, rather than through the draft -- and instead choose to shore up the team's secondary through the draft. Ever since selecting Deion Branch, the Patriots have struggled to develop wide receivers, despite having arguably the best quarterback and coach of all-time. Since drafting Branch and David Givens, the Patriots have chosen Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price and Jeremy Ebert at wide receiver -- with Belichick burning either a second- or third-round draft choice on Johnson, Jackson, Tate and Price.
There's certainly no guarantee that the Patriots end up with Wallace, or even heavily pursue him. Wallace figures to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, and New England probably won't offer Wallace the richest contract. Still, with extra money to spend and a need at wide receiver, it seems likely that, at the least, Belichick and company will do their due diligence on Wallace -- especially if he parts ways with Lloyd.