ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Tim Tebow has lost his top target even before he makes his first start of the season.
The Denver Broncos traded Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd, the league’s leading receiver last year, to the St. Louis Rams on Monday for a conditional 2012 draft pick.
The move comes a week after Tebow supplanted Kyle Orton at quarterback and six days before Tebow’s first start at Miami.
In St. Louis, Lloyd will reunite with former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, now the Rams’ offensive coordinator, and provide Sam Bradford with a much-needed downfield threat.
Lloyd is in the final year of a deal that pays him about $1.4 million, a bargain for a player who led the league with 1,448 yards receiving last year, when he caught 77 passes, 11 of them for touchdowns.
His numbers are down this year, with 19 catches for a team-high 283 yards and no touchdowns.
“We appreciate all the hard work that Brandon did during his three years in Denver and wish him the best with the Rams…,” Broncos football chief John Elway tweeted.
“I’m excited about our wide receiver group – This is as healthy as we’ve been at that position since the start of the year. Our young WRs have really emerged and made some plays, and this is a great opportunity for them to continue to step up,” Elway added.
Last month, Lloyd complained about a lack of downfield chances under the new regime in Denver. Coach John Fox blamed Lloyd’s dip in productivity largely on a groin injury that kept him out against Cincinnati — Denver’s only win — although Lloyd maintained the Broncos’ conservative offensive philosophy was the primary culprit.
Lloyd had a breakout season in 2011, his eighth in the NFL. He had 18 catches of 25 yards or more and posted the third-highest receiving average (18.8 yards) since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 after a mostly nondescript career in San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Denver, where he played in two games in 2009.
Even at 30, Lloyd is one of the most athletic players in the NFL and is widely considered the receiver with the best hands in football.
The departure of their top target follows the Broncos’ benching of Orton, who was replaced by Tebow at halftime after an awful performance against San Diego on Oct. 9. The next day, the Broncos handed their offense to Tebow, the popular and polarizing former Florida star who started three games last season.
During that stretch, Lloyd caught 14 passes from Tebow for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
Now that Orton’s no longer calling the plays, the Broncos are expected to go to even more of a ball-control offense under Tebow, a scrambler who lacks the precise passing Orton usually displayed.
Wide receiver Eddie Royal also is set to become a free agent after this season and is reportedly available before Tuesday’s trade deadline, as well. But there’s not as much interest in the injury-prone fourth-year pro who hasn’t played since straining a groin against the Bengals on Sept. 18.
Royal returned to practice last week and is expected to play Sunday at Miami if all goes well this week.
Also expected back is Demaryius Thomas, who’s been sidelined all year. He missed training camp while rehabbing from a torn right Achilles tendon, and the Broncos made the surprising move of keeping him on their 53-man roster rather than placing him on the PUP list to start the season.
That move backfired when Thomas shattered his left pinkie during his first padded practice last month, sidelining him until this week.
Both Thomas and Royal were practicing in the rain Monday along with rookie tight end Julius Thomas, who sprained his right ankle in Week 2.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)