Ever since the New England Patriots were beaten in the AFC Championship game by the Baltimore Ravens at the end of last season, there has been constant speculation surrounding the status of Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd didn't have the statistical impact that many expected when he signed with the Patriots, and the off-season has seen unnamed sources cite his behaviour as erratic during the year.
If Lloyd's behaviour was really an issue, the Patriots likely would have cut him during the season. Bill Belichick has never been one to put up with problematic players within his locker-room. While he has brought in players with questionable pasts such as Randy Moss and Aqib Talib, those players didn't misbehave with the franchise.
There is no arguing with the fact that Lloyd's production wasn't what was expected of him. However, his overall impact on the offense was undoubtedly important as the unit was the most balanced and explosive unit in the league. His 73 receptions for 902 yards and four touchdowns isn't Randy Moss like, but in an offense that shares the football so much it's not exactly awful. It is especially impressive considering that Lloyd is very cheap in relative terms when it comes to salary. He is owed just $1.9 million during the regular season next year, as well as a $3 million bonus this off-season.
With Tom Brady's contract alleviating even more cap space than the franchise's already sizable number, the Patriots have no financial motivation to release the 31-year-old wide receiver. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Because Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Dante Stallworth and Julian Edelman all come free from their contracts this off-season, Lloyd is the only reputable receiver currently on the roster. None of Matthew Slater, Kamar Aiken, Andre Holmes or Jeremy Ebert can fill his role or contribute anywhere near as mcuh to the team overall as Lloyd.
The Patriots are looking to improve on a team that has fallen just short twice in the past two seasons. On both occasions that their seasons ended, the team that beat them went on to win the Super Bowl. Maximising the team's potential for a Super Bowl victory over the next two seasons is a must as Brady doesn't likely have much more left in him. Finding a receiver better than Brandon Lloyd, who can adapt and understand the Patriots' passing scheme, for less than $4.9 million this year is simply not a realistic option. Retaining Lloyd and keeping the team's other receivers(including tight ends) healthy is the improvement the Patriots need, not an upgrade on their outside threat.
You don't dramatically improve your team by addressing one of it's more productive players. The Patriots have enough needs without creating another one, while they barely have enough money or avenues to explore to fix those other needs as is. The Patriots need to sign a second starting receiver, find offensive line depth, sort out both cornerback positions, add a starting safety, sign at least one more pass rusher and get a starting right tackle whether it be through re-signing Sebastien Vollmer or add an outside contributor.
It's not like these are easy fixes.
Alfonzo Dennard's off-season troubles could cost him his job, while Aqib Talib won't be cheap to re-sign. Starting caliber cornerbacks cost significantly more than the average position, while finding one that is actually available is often impossible. Pass-rushers are at a premium in today's NFL, which is a big reason why the team has had so few in recent years. Unless Tavon Austin immediately becomes a starting option, the Patriots will have to find a high-quality safety to pair with Devin McCourty on the backend. Those aren't cheap. Combine all of that with Wes Welker's contract negotiations that will either force the team to look elsewhere or give him a big chunk of their cap, and the Patriots suddenly are overwhelmed with needs.
The Patriots entered the off-season with $18.6 million in cap space. After Brady's new contract extension, they should have just over $20 million free. Releasing Lloyd would free up roughly $3 million more, but create another gaping hole that needs to be filled. Lloyd would immediately have many suitors as a free agent also.
Releasing him just doesn't make sense...