The 49ers recently announced the long-rumored signing of Brandon Lloyd, a guy who sort of got disowned around here. Remember how fans wanted the team to keep Josh Morgan (probably the best comp in terms of a receiver with potential who left via free agency as soon as he could)? No one shed a tear when B-Lloyd left town.
When football teams lose, the negatives naturally get emphasized. Lloyd made some of the most gorgeous, improbable catches in franchise history during his three-year stint in San Francisco. He was kind of like an extremely arrogant, poor man’s R.C. Owens. But fans focused instead on the times when Lloyd went T-Rex across the middle to avoid contact, the ever-mounting evidence that he was probably a pain in the rear in the locker room, and the mediocre freestyle rapping.
Remember, 49ers fans trended more toward the wine-and-cheese crowd 10 years ago. And despite Terrell Owens’ dominance, the wide receiver template for this franchise had already been set. Jerry Rice embodied what a receiver should look, act and talk like, and every receiver was compared to Flash 80. If you weren’t at least pushing All-Pro status as a Niners receiver, you’d better start hitting the hills during the offseason, preferably with Rice himself.
In a lot of ways, it’s still like that around here.
But Lloyd’s career started out nothing like Rice’s. Lloyd was brash and the team stunk, so when he signed with Washington (as Morgan also did, several years later) it was considered an addition-by-subtraction moment for a team that would struggle to add capable receivers after Lloyd’s departure.
And it looked like we* were all correct, as he totaled only 59 receptions, 858 yards and two touchdowns in four seasons with Washington, Chicago and Denver.
*(I was never a fan either; maybe I had the Fred Beasley anecdote Matt Barrows detailed Tuesday in the back of my mind throughout B-Lloyd’s time here.)
Then something crazy happened — Lloyd led the league in receiving yards in 2010. Hold on, that doesn’t do it justice. LLOYD LED THE LEAGUE IN RECEIVING YARDS AND DENVER’S QUARTERBACKS WERE KYLE ORTON AND TIM TEBOW. So why did the Broncos trade him to the Rams for a conditional fifth round pick in the middle of the 2011 season?
It didn’t seem like the split was horribly acrimonious, just Lloyd chirping about how he wanted to find a new situation. I’m guessing he took a look around, saw Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and realized he was going to start losing targets relatively soon. He ended up finishing the season on a good note for St. Louis, and parlayed that into a three-year, $12 million contract with the Patriots.
He played well for New England in 2012, including a 10-catch, 190-yard game against the 49ers. But the Pats cut him after the season to avoid paying a $3 million roster bonus, and Lloyd sat out the 2013 season. During that time he played the role of Sgt. Chuck Lloyd in a zombie movie called After Effect.
That last note would raise eyebrows with most other receivers, but not Lloyd.
Now he’s back with the 49ers, and Trent Baalke finally has his man. The 49ers tried to trade for Lloyd before he was shipped to St. Louis. Baalke showed interested in Lloyd before he signed with New England, and the 49ers GM reportedly tried to lure Lloyd away from the set of that zombie movie last season. And for the second time in three seasons, the 49ers will try to get No.3 receiver production from a veteran who didn’t play the year before.
Here’s what’s in Baalke’s favor — Lloyd will be 33 next season and had 911 yards in 2012, while Moss was 35 during the 2011 season and had only 393 yards two years before joining the 49ers. Then again, Moss was one of the best receivers ever.
Where longtime 49ers see a prima donna, Baalke sees a guy who has torched the 49ers at every opportunity. Lloyd has 24 receptions for 493 yards (20.5 yards per catch) in four games against San Francisco, and all of those games took place in 2010 or later.
So now it’s time to play the wait-and-see game. The 49ers need receivers, and Lloyd makes catches on the sidelines we rarely if ever see from the guys they already had. If he moves the chains and throws down a few GIF-able highlights, it’ll be a great homecoming story. But if he disappoints on the field and makes too much noise in the locker room, fans will be ready to cut the cord almost immediately.
Lloyd still has to make the 53-man roster at the end of August, and that’s by no means guaranteed. He seems like a nice, mouthy distraction for Richard Sherman though, doesn’t he? As annoying as he was to those who followed the team from 2003-05, if Lloyd can find a way to get under Sherman’s skin he’ll be worth every penny.
And that, my friends, is how one talks themselves into the 49ers re-signing a player who sat out the year before and played for five other teams before coming back to play for the one that drafted him.