Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez Upgrade Patriots’ Wide Receivers, Will Create Exciting Positional Battle in Training Camp


Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez Upgrade Patriots' Wide Receivers, Will Create Exciting Positional Battle in Training CampAs expected, the Patriots have gotten aggressive to upgrade the wide receiver position in free agency, and there will be some good competition to make the team throughout this summer's training camp.

The Patriots added Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez to the mix Saturday, and there's potential for some serious upside with that tandem. Lloyd, obviously, has had a tremendous amount of success with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and the receiver will get his first real chance to work with a legitimate quarterback in Tom Brady.

Gonzalez was a low-risk move worth exploring. The Colts' first-round pick in 2007 has been a very good complementary player in a complex offense, catching a career-high 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns in 2008. However, injuries have limited him to five total receptions in the last three seasons.

Gonzalez is a slot receiver by trade, though he can line up anywhere, and his versatility and talent could make him a very valuable role player in New England. And if injuries happen to limit him in 2012, the Patriots can simply move in another direction.

Clearly, Wes Welker will still be the main man at the position, assuming things don't go haywire with the contract situation. Deion Branch also wants to stay in New England, and the Patriots should be able to keep him onboard for cheap money, at least if they want to keep Brady in a good mood. Yet, Branch will still have to prove he deserves a roster spot, and that might be a difficult task if the Patriots invest highly on a receiver in the draft.

It gets more complicated from there. Chad Ochocinco sounds open to restructuring his contract, which will keep him in town for camp. The Patriots' hope is that it will click for him over the offseason, but he'll still be forced to make the team. If he doesn't, they won't struggle to replace his 15-catch season in 2011.

Slot receiver Julian Edelman is another interesting case. His versatility in all three phases of the game was an asset last season, and head coach Bill Belichick is a fan of his work. Edelman isn't a lock to make the team, but that roster spot is his to lose.

From there, Matthew Slater is listed as a wide receiver, but he has long since carved out his niche as a special teams ace. And Tiquan Underwood, the recipient of the most famous pink slip in Super Bowl history, will compete for a job with whichever receivers are brought in from now until camp.

The Patriots didn't have to rob a Brink's truck to upgrade their passing attack, which took a major step forward in 2011 due to the development of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who should continue to improve in 2012 and beyond.

Lloyd was the most logical option, both due to familiarity with the system and his price. The reported three-year, $12 million deal is a fraction of the contracts that have been signed by inferior receivers in the last week, and he'll still be an upgrade at the position.

Plus, while the Patriots will still likely add a receiver in the draft — if for no other reason than to at least get younger in that area — Saturday's signings won't force them to get overaggressive in the first round if they don't like the value. With the 27th and 31st picks, the Patriots will be able to add two solid assets, and with a crowded group of receivers already in tow, Belichick shouldn't feel the need to reach for a wideout if he's got his eye on a couple defensive players in the first round.

The Patriots got by just fine with their group of pass catchers in 2011, but there was some obvious room for improvement. Lloyd should definitely provide that, and there's a chance Gonzalez will help the cause, too.

Now, it's shaping up to be one of the best positional battles in camp.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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