Patriots Look to Improve Super Bowl Odds, May Aim Higher Than Brandon Lloyd at Receiver

There is still no news on the wide receiver front for the New England Patriots. The team could have slapped the franchise tag on Wes Welker early this week but has yet to do so. Reports are that the two sides still are significantly apart on a long-term deal, but no one expects the Pats to let Welker hit the market.

It is no secret that New England needs to add an outside receiver with big-play capability to help out Welker and Tom Brady. And one name making the rounds this week is likely free agent Brandon Lloyd.

Even without an outside threat, the Patriots odds of winning Super Bowl XLVII look pretty good.

Green Bay Packers: 6/1
New England Patriots 7/1
New Orleans Saints: 17/2
Houston Texans: 10/1

Lloyd is doing what every player should in keeping his options open, but he seems to be courting the Pats. The Rams might bring Lloyd back after he was acquired last October from Denver. All told, Lloyd had 70 catches for 966 yards and five touchdowns a season ago, solid numbers considering questionable quarterback play in Denver and St. Louis.

The Rams are even more desperate for receiving help than the Pats, but they figure to take one high in this year’s draft and Lloyd might be too pricey for St. Louis. This week, Lloyd said he would be open to returning to St. Louis but that he would love to reunite with Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Of course McDaniels was the former head coach in Denver. Lloyd, a former journeyman, had 77 receptions for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010, all career highs, when McDaniels was there. McDaniels took over as Rams offensive coordinator last year and Lloyd had 51 receptions for 683 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games with the Rams after that trade.

One roadblock to Lloyd coming to New England is his agent, Tom Condon. He has not worked with the Patriots directly in seven years since intense negotiations involving tight end Ben Watson. However, his agency – CAA Sports – represents several Patriots, and Condon said that all the Pats need to do is give him a call.

New England could aim higher, however, and help weaken a potential playoff rival: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Reports are the Steelers might have to let Mike Wallace, a soon-to-be restricted free agent, walk. Pittsburgh is a rare team over the salary cap – around $10 million — so it would have to cut several players to afford a potential $9.4 million franchise tag salary cap number on Wallace.

The speedster had 72 catches for 1,193 yards and eight TDs a year ago in just his third season. He did slow down in the second half of 2011, catching only 29 passes for 393 yards in the final eight regular-season games, which might be a warning sign for Pittsburgh to keep him (or New England to sign him).

Presuming Wallace reaches free agency and is tendered, there are new rules in place for restricted free agents under the new CBA. A team that wants to sign Wallace away from the Steelers would now only have to forfeit a first-round pick to Pittsburgh, whereas in the past signing Wallace away would have cost a first-round pick and a third-round pick. Of course New England has two first-round picks in the 2012 draft and plenty of cap space to sign Wallace.

Wallace and Lloyd are similar in size, but Wallace is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL. Wallace might cost more in salary and in terms of having to give up that pick, but he’s also only 25 years old compared to Lloyd being 30. Plus you get to weaken the Steelers. New England might have to outbid the Baltimore Ravens, among others, to get Wallace, however. Pittsburgh has until March 3 to franchise tag Wallace as does St. Louis with Lloyd (and the Pats with Welker). It can also match any potential contract Wallace signs with another team. With the upcoming NFL draft, check Bovada for any changes in next years' Super Bowl odds.

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