The San Francisco 49ers have 14 potential unrestricted free agents who would hit the market when the new league year begins on March 10. Let’s continue our countdown with a receiver who returned to the Niners after eight years away and a year out of football.
Originally a fourth-round pick of the Niners in 2003 out of Illinois, Lloyd spent the first three years of his NFL career in San Francisco before going to Washington, the Chicago Bears, the Denver Broncos, the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots. Lloyd did not play in 2013 before signing with the 49ers as a free agent. He was a Pro Bowler in 2010 with the Broncos as he led the NFL in receiving yards (1,448) and catches of at least 25 yards (18) with 11 touchdowns on 77 receptions. His 18.8 yards-per-catch average ranks fourth since the 1970 merger for a single season among players with at least 75 catches.
49ers career: In his first go-round, Lloyd had 105 catches for 1,510 yards and 13 touchdowns in 45 games, with the likes of Jeff Garcia, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett and Alex Smith under center. Last year, at age 33, Lloyd was the Niners’ most acrobatic pass catcher, averaging 21 yards per catch on 14 receptions. He also had a score, a clutch 80-yard catch-and-run at St. Louis just before halftime, but only three of his catches came after Week 9.
Argument for keeping Lloyd: Sure, he’s old by football standards. And yes, his production tailed off in the second half of the season. But he did average 21 yards per catch. His 80-yard touchdown at St. Louis on "Monday Night Football" was the team’s longest reception by a receiver since Lloyd himself had an 89-yard touchdown reception from Rattay in 2005. He also had an acrobatic sideline catch against the Kansas City Chiefs to keep a drive alive in Week 5. After a year off, he seemed re-charged, and even at 34 (his age on July 5), he could be a change-of-pace receiver for a receiving corps that might also lose Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson.
Argument for letting Lloyd walk: He’s old by football standards. And since we’re talking football here, that’s the most important thing. He petered out in the second half of the season and while his experience -- he has played 11 seasons and has 399 career catches for 5,989 yards and 36 touchdowns – is impressive, he is no longer a game-changer. And with the Niners receiver corps in flux, the team needs to start fresh.
A bold prediction: Lloyd takes the decision out of the Niners’ hands and retires. Again.