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Sunday football notes

McDaniels influence may make Lloyd a good catch

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / March 11, 2012
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Considering the praise Brandon Lloyd heaped on the Patriots in numerous interviews late last week, we wouldn’t be surprised if, when free agency opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday, the receiver reenacted John Cusack’s famous scene from the movie “Say Anything’’ in the Gillette Stadium parking lot.

Boombox overhead with “In Your Eyes’’ playing.

It was that bad. And he probably decreased any offer the Patriots might be formulating.

But will the marriage be consummated? Should it?

You would think a Lloyd-Patriots marriage makes too much sense for it not to happen.

The Patriots, according to league sources, want to improve their receiving crop in free agency, and possibly the draft. There are plenty of options in free agency: Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace (restricted), Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Braylon Edwards, and Robert Meachem, among others.

The Patriots’ passing system is complex, and not everyone can grasp it (see: Ochocinco, Chad). Lloyd can and has. He has been in the system with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with both the Broncos and Rams.

And even though Lloyd will be 31 July 5, he has proven to be productive in the system. He had 70 catches for 966 yards and five touchdowns last season between the Broncos and Rams - when both teams were bad. And he was second-team All-Pro with the Broncos and McDaniels in 2010 after catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Then there are his physical tools. Lloyd is not a burner - he’s a long-strider who is deceptively fast to defensive backs - but few are better in the air.

“He’s extremely talented,’’ said a Broncos source. “He has the best body control and hands of any receiver I’ve ever seen from the standpoint of just making the craziest catch. He does it so much that he makes those crazy catches look normal for him.

“He’s either going to come down with it, or knock it away from the [defensive back]. He makes contested catches over people because he can elevate and make catches in the crowd, make catches when the [defensive backs] are right there, make one-handed catches on balls that are thrown behind him. His body control is just ridiculous.’’

And with that, Patriots fans are ordering Lloyd jerseys online.

Perhaps they should. Throw in the fact that Lloyd, the son of two teachers, is highly intelligent and well-spoken, and he seems too good to be true.

And then you look at his career transactions.

Despite posting 160 catches for 2,583 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons at the University of Illinois and turning pro one year early, Lloyd was drafted in the fourth round in 2003.

The 49ers traded him for a third- and fourth-round pick to the Redskins, who gave Lloyd a six-year contract worth $30 million. After two seasons, coach Joe Gibbs released Lloyd.

The Bears signed him to just a one-year contract in 2008, and he was not re-signed after being injured for much of the season. He was a healthy scratch at one point for a team that had no receivers.

After his All-Pro-type season, the Broncos traded Lloyd to the Rams for only a conditional sixth-round pick (it turned into a selection in the fifth round).

The Rams haven’t been very aggressive in re-signing Lloyd, so he’ll likely land with his sixth team in nine seasons.

That doesn’t happen for no reason.

The book on Lloyd, according to several league sources at his various stops, is that he can be moody and surly, depending on the day, and a bit selfish. You won’t find many teammates who have good things to say about him.

But others have said that when Lloyd is on the practice field or in games, he is fine and can be managed.

Not everyone agrees.

“I know you’ve heard he was good in the building, but he wasn’t necessarily an angel in the building,’’ said the Broncos source. “He wasn’t a good teammate. During games, he was asking the stat person to see how many catches and yards he had at that point in the game when [Kyle] Orton was starting.

“He has that locker room lawyer-type in him. Publicly he’ll say all the right things, but in the locker room he’ll voice his opinion.

“He’s extremely intelligent. Very articulate, very well-read, but there were times when people in the building thought he may be bipolar - and not joking - because he has days where he’s up and ready to go and happy-go-lucky and he’s like, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’

“And then there were other days when he was surly and moody, and you just know it’s not a good day to approach him.

“He’s kind of a different cat, I’ll say that.’’

In many ways, Lloyd sounds similar to Albert Haynesworth - without the off-field incidents or the label of a quitter, though the 49ers, Redskins, and Bears weren’t always thrilled with Lloyd’s work ethic.

But the Denver source also believes that if there is any person who can get Lloyd to play at his best, and be on his best behavior, it’s McDaniels. He’s like the Lloyd Whisperer.

“When Josh was there, I think what you said was true: Inside the building, he was great, this and that,’’ the source said. “He may have been up and down personality-wise outside the building, but inside the building, he was relatively quiet.

“But I think a lot of that had to do with him getting the ball. He wasn’t shy about telling Orton, ‘Give me the damn ball,’ or a look. I don’t think Tom Brady is going to put up with that. Tom Brady is going to be like, ‘Just shut up. I pass it to the open guy. If you’re open, I’ll get it to you.’ I don’t know how he would react to that. Kyle never did that.

“He has an affinity for Josh because Josh had faith in him to give him the chance to start, and when he started, he used him. He made him a very focal point of the offense and I think he respected that, and Josh respected the fact that when his number was called, he made plays.

“With Josh there, they do have a special relationship, and I know Brandon respects the heck out of him. That might be the equalizer that controls all the negative stuff.’’

With McDaniels on board, it would be a much safer play for the Patriots to sign Lloyd. Given Lloyd’s track record around the league, there doesn’t figure to be a huge market for him. And given his ability, he seems like a fit with the Patriots, who figure to give themselves protection the way they did with Haynesworth.

COUNTDOWN BEGINS

Manning runs the QB option

The Peyton Manning Sweepstakes appears to be down to three teams, as he visited with the Broncos and reportedly will meet with the Cardinals and Dolphins, then make a decision before free agency starts Tuesday.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, who has a long relationship with the Manning family, dropped a not-so-subtle hint that if the Texans were to get involved, they would be “heavy favorites.’’

But barring a change of heart by general manager Rick Smith and owner Bob McNair, the Texans are going to stick with quarterback Matt Schaub.

Let’s take a look at the remaining suitors for Manning:

■ Favorite: Broncos - Manning’s first stop was in Denver, Friday and Saturday. This is a terrific play by vice president of football operations John Elway. Manning is about the only option that gives Denver a viable out from having to go with Tim Tebow. If coach John Fox tries to give any other quarterback the starting spot over Tebow, the fans would revolt. But that wouldn’t be the case with Manning. And the Broncos wouldn’t have to trade Tebow right away. He could sit behind Manning for at least two years, learn the game, and revamp his mechanics before making a real run at a starting job. There’s a lot to like here for Manning. It’s a great franchise that is comfortable for a big star (Elway should know). The Broncos have a good defense, a solid offensive line, some emerging targets, and with about $50 million in cap space, plenty of room to sign former Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and perhaps Pierre Garcon. Plus, the division is weak.

■ Close: Dolphins - You know owner Stephen Ross is going to go all-out. He desperately needs a star to put people in the seats and solve the franchise’s quarterback drought since Dan Marino. But will it be enough? The media circus that ensued when Manning returned from Indianapolis to his Miami home won’t help, but that’s temporary. Plenty of stars call Miami home and live a relatively relaxed life. The circus would die down. The Dolphins have a good defense and some nice pieces on offense. Wayne would love to return home. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin would have to deal with Manning and make it work. The offensive line needs a little help. Manning would have to compete with the Patriots in the division, but at least he knows them well.

■ Trailing: Cardinals - Arizona has receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a climate-controlled stadium, a good defense, and plays in a weak division (except for the 49ers defense). Coach Ken Whisenhunt would be fine ceding control to Manning. Bill Bidwill hasn’t been one of the more popular owners, but he stays out of the way for the most part. Manning would basically be able to run the franchise, which may be tempting.

■ Long shot: Chiefs - They’re an outsider right now, but that could change, since team chairman Clark Hunt confirmed that they are interested in Manning. The Chiefs could have some trouble making a good pitch since the weather is more of a factor in Kansas City, and the prospect of playing under domineering general manager Scott Pioli and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll may not be enticing. But the Chiefs have a good defense, and a defense-oriented head coach in Romeo Crennel who would let Manning loose offensively. Plus they have a ton of cap space and could pledge to spend it all.

ETC.

Jets throw in with Sanchez

The Jets showed interest in Peyton Manning but apparently were rebuffed quickly. They can’t be faulted for that. When a Hall of Fame quarterback becomes available, and is apparently healthy enough to continue his career, you have to do your due diligence.

But then the Jets screwed up.

They decided their best play was not only to extend the contract of quarterback Mark Sanchez for three seasons through 2016, but to guarantee his salary for 2012 and ’13 at a total value of $20.5 million.

Let there be no mistake: Coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum are now tied to Sanchez. If he fails, they’re all out of a job after 2013. If Sanchez wins big, Ryan and Tannenbaum look like geniuses.

Oh, and all that talk about bringing in a viable backup to push Sanchez? That’s totally gone. You don’t pay a guy more than $10 million a season to sit on the bench. Sanchez is it. The Jets will sink or swim with him.

The whole “flirt with Manning and then overpay the incumbent’’ move reeks of what happened with the Dolphins last offseason. They got on a plane to see Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, were turned down, and then extended the contract of Tony Sparano.

If Sanchez needs to vent about his current situation, or compare notes, he only needs to peek in the door of his new offensive coordinator, who happens to be Sparano.

The Patriots have to be high-fiving themselves. Facing Sanchez for the possibly the next five seasons is surely fine with them. Oh, he can beat them with a good running game and a top defense, but considering the salary cap and personnel jam the Jets now find themselves in, that doesn’t look like it will happen soon.

In Buffalo, the Bills won just twice in 10 chances after giving Ryan Fitzpatrick a long-term extension.

And if the Dolphins fail to land Manning (think Robert Kraft can spare a few bucks to help the cause of the Broncos and/or Cardinals?), then the Patriots are looking at another five years of having, by far, the best quarterback in the AFC East.

If Manning turns down the Dolphins, then the Patriots have already had a great offseason, even before free agency starts.

Nickel package

1. It came as absolutely no surprise that the Redskins traded up to get the Rams’ second overall pick. They have to land an elite quarterback, and Peyton Manning was not going to face little brother Eli twice a season. Robert Griffin III will be a worthy face of the franchise, and his athletic ability coupled with the boot-action pass game of coach Mike Shanahan should be something to behold. (Think Jake Plummer rolling out, but on steroids.) It should put enormous pressure on the defense, and open up the run game as well. The cost of two first-round picks and one in the second is steep, but this should be one gamble that actually pays off for owner Daniel Snyder.

2. The statement released by Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the bounty scandal was disappointing to say the least, and bordered on being a joke. It’s chock-full of legalese to make sure Brees covers his behind, instead of helping the franchise put this episode behind.

3. Brees said he didn’t have any knowledge of the bounties’ “real existence.’’ Real existence? Either you heard about it, Drew, or you didn’t. It sure sounds like you did and chose not to delve into the matter further. And then Brees told Saints fans to “reserve judgment until the investigation is complete.’’ Uh, it’s complete, Drew. The NFL said this happened. All we’re waiting for is the punishment.

4. Combine Brees’s statement on the bounty scandal and the fact that his failed contract talks led to the franchise tag - and likely departure of guard Carl Nicks and receiver Marques Colston - and this has not been a good week for the image of one of the league’s golden boys.

5. Can’t fault the Colts for getting a jump start on their rebuilding project. Yes, they released some big names Friday, but all of them had battled injuries. Tight end Dallas Clark (15), linebacker Gary Brackett (19), running back Joseph Addai (12), and safety Melvin Bullitt (26) missed a combined 72 games the previous two seasons. Those guys helped win a lot of games, but they had to go. Nostalgia is nice, but it doesn’t help you win football games.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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