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Article Title: Smith has new reliable targets
Article Date: March 16th 2006
By Sydney


San Francisco 49er quarterback Alex Smith will have some friendly new faces this up and coming season to throw to in that the team manufactured a blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins in acquiring two-premium draft picks for their No. #1 wide receiving threat in Brandon Lloyd.

Brandon Lloyd was tendered by the San Francisco 49ers at a first round level, meaning as a restricted free agent we had the right to match any offer presented to him by another team. If that team declined to match then they would have to yield a first round draft pick as compensation.

Brandon Lloyd was San Francisco’s top wide receiver last season, catching 48 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns all the while being on the NFL’s worst offense. But the interest from the Washington Redskins became more and more intense as the month of March progressed into the second week of its tenure.

“Washington came to us,’ Nolan said. “They were interested in his services.”

Mike Nolan right from the very beginning expressed a dedication to Brandon Lloyd in bringing him back in as the No.#1 wide receiver for the 2006 NFL season. That is why a tender was made to retain his services by the 49ers.

But the Washington Redskins with owner Dan Snyder are on a tear in the free agent market to bolster their wide receiving corps. So as to make a real run at the up and coming NFL season and hopefully the playoffs. They looked away from what the dismal 49er offense did as a whole and concentrated on the player at hand.

Problems surfaced with Brandon Lloyd last season throughout the season in that inside the locker room and out on the sidelines his abrasive personality irked many of his teammates to the extent that they approached Mike Nolan and his staff about it. A number of the defensive leaders on the 49ers determined that Brandon Lloyd was more about Brandon “the player,” then he was about being a San Francisco 49er teammate.

Some even went to the extent of confronting Mike Nolan and explicitly telling him that the 49er locker room would be better off without Lloyd in it.

The greatest clash that occurred last season in which he became alienated from the rest of the team was when he refused to take any of the blame after backing off from a pass at the goal line in the 17-9 loss to the Bears in Chicago that occurred in November of 2005.

Brandon Lloyd vehemently said that 49er quarterback Cody Pickett “threw the ball too early.”

As this comment reached the media so did damage control operations begin from Mike Nolan’s office, in that he expressed outrage to the media in saying: “no one is above the rest of the team” as he was asked about Brandon Lloyd’s earlier comments.

Following that press release Mike Nolan went even further with the issue as he conducted two private meetings with the former University of Illinois star on the very subject just discussed.

Brandon Lloyd went on to say later to both the press and friends that he didn’t like being called out in front of the team and didn’t consider himself a “Nolan guy.” Was this the nail in the coffin so to speak resulting in a trade being done between the parties we’ll just assume that it was.

But hadn’t the Washington Redskins expressed any interest in Brandon Lloyd the chances of him remaining with us were very good. Brandon Lloyd was signed by the Washington Redskins to be a capable complement to Santana Moss, the Redskins leading receiver last season with 84 catches for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. The Washington Redskin offense last season struggled all last season, with only Moss and H-back Chris Colley catching more than 30 passes.

The San Francisco 49ers though to our delight received justified compensation for the trade from the Washington Redskins to the tune of a third round draft pick this year and a fourth round pick in 2007.

“He’s got some of the best hands you’ll see, and he does make plays,” Nolan said. “We did this to make our team better. If he didn’t want to return to San Francisco, he never voiced that to me.”

With this trade the San Francisco 49ers became suddenly paper-thin at the wide receiver position especially since they had released veteran Johnnie Morton earlier in the off-season already. The 49ers did however make sure that their No. #2 leading wide receiver was secured by working out a contract with him back in December of 2005.

Arnaz Battle, a third-year pro had 29 receptions for 311 yards and three touchdowns last season despite the fact that he has durability issues while battling right knee problems all season long.

Under his new contract with the 49ers he could make $4.49 million in salary over the next four seasons. He started eight games in 2005, opening the season as the first-team wide receiver after not starting any games in his first two NFL seasons.

Arnaz Battle, is a former quarterback from Notre Dame, completed his first NFL pass against the St. Louis Rams (9-11-05), a 24-yard completion to none other than Brandon Lloyd in the second quarter, which continued a 49er drive that ended up with a 35-yard touchdown from then quarterback Tim Rattay to Brandon Lloyd.

No.#83 later in that quarter completed his second pass of his career on a three-yard shovel pass to running back Frank Gore. He set career-highs in 2005. He established career marks with six receptions for 68 yards against Dallas (9-25-05), then raised the competition even higher with seven receptions for 74 yards at Tennessee (11-27-05).

What sold Mike Nolan on Arnaz Battle and promoted his cause to be signed was not only Battle’s versatility in that he is a hybrid blend of quarterback and wide receiver but for his blocking abilities as well. He cited Battle’s blocking intensity in the run game as a main factor the 49ers were able to amass 217 rushing yards against the St. Louis Rams and 180 more rushing yards against the Houston Texans.

The question is this though; can Arnaz Battle be a legitimate threat now that Brandon Lloyd is gone? The answer to that was made quickly as Brandon Lloyd departed leaving the 49ers with absolutely no legitimate No.#1 receiving threat so to speak of, and no one to assist second-year quarterback Alex Smith in his first full season as the starting quarterback.

Brandon Lloyd was an athlete I honestly enjoyed as I watched him haul in difficult catches and somewhat untouchable passes that he caught in acrobatic fashion so close to the sidelines. He was the promise of this franchise as Terrell Owens bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles and began his verbal rampage right where he left off from in San Francisco.

Some wonder though rather Terrell Owens had rubbed off on Brandon Lloyd as he was dubbed “Mini-T.O.” in that he displayed a cocky attitude at times and liked to flash money in ways like jewelry and cars in such a way that he looked upon himself as above everyone else.

This set the firestorm that was transmitted throughout the entire team and turned stomachs upside down over even acknowledging him as one of their own. Arnaz Battle suddenly saw himself as the only real certainty at a starting receiving position with Lloyd packing his bags and flying off to Washington.

Because the Washington Redskins didn’t own a first round pick as compensation in the trade for Brandon Lloyd they worked out a compromise with the 49ers and obtained his rights with not one but two draft picks.

“We made this decision because the value in the trade will help our roster get better,” Nolan said. “That’s the true reason. If I had felt (Lloyd didn’t fit in), we wouldn’t have tendered him in the first place.”

Of the leading wide receiver free agents that were out there the San Francisco 49ers showed the most interest and ultimately signed Antonio Bryant away from the Cleveland Browns. Seattle’s Joe Jurevicius and Pittsburgh’s Antwaan Randle El were scooped up by both Cleveland and the Washington Redskins respectively.

Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Bryant caught Mike Nolan’s attention early and through discussions with his former coaching staff and talking with Antonio Bryant himself, he came away with a sense of maturity that would only enhance this franchise in achieving success out on the field.

Antonio Bryant is a playmaker and after openly admitting past mistakes and growing up from them he signed a four-year agreement with the 49ers for $15 million dollars. Bryant, 25, a former second-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, had a blowout in a 2004 practice session with head coach Bill Parcells, throwing a jersey that’s truck the coach in the face. He was chastised for his actions and sent to take anger management classes and just two months later was traded to the Cleveland Browns.

Despite those rumblings and the discontent he had towards his former coach, Mike Nolan can see something special in Antonio that he really likes. So many free agents come with a certain history, one most of the time they aren’t proud of and care not to admit.

At least now Antonio Bryant is coming again clean and erasing all doubts that he is on the up and up. Bryant, a former University of Pittsburgh teammate of 49ers running back Kevan Barlow, said he made clear in his meetings with Nolan, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan that he has learned from his previous mistakes and wants a fresh start.

“I get the feeling this is going to be very positive for him and for our football team,” Nolan said. “He’s wiser than he has been in the past. And the structure we’ve put in place and the accountability everybody has to one another, I believe he’ll fit into that structure.”

Some of the things that Nolan was sold on after watching him on film and from what he gathered at previous discussions is that Antonio Bryant wasn’t just about himself, but carried a team first mentality which is mandated by Nolan himself.

Nolan described Bryant as a “complete player,” a competitor who is fleet, physical and willing to block downfield. He even considers Bryant an upgrade over Brandon Lloyd, the teams leading receiver last season.

Some say though that if Antonio Bryant doesn’t feel like a leading contributor in a game right from the get go that his performance became less than adequate. Antonio Bryant has been known for his dropped passes; in fact he had 14 of them.

But in terms of his size, speed and overall ability he’s a superior athlete to Brandon Lloyd by far. Playing in a situation in Cleveland where they had an unsettling situation at quarterback. Bryant brought in 69 passes for 1,009-yards and four touchdowns in 2005, which when you look at a comparison is suitable to Brandon Lloyd’s output.

Certainly Antonio Bryant brings an instant upgrade to our receiving element in our game. Despite the catastrophic loss we thought would be in Brandon Lloyd, we turned everything back upside down and now have a seasoned veteran who’ll be a guiding force for the younger receivers to follow.

No one can determine with certainty that he’ll be the top playmaker overall but the San Francisco 49ers are playing this free agency thing very smart and we are building a force that will assist Alex Smith in becoming a more promising quarterback within this league.

Antonio Bryant brings a lot of questions up to the surface initially and it’ll be up to him to put away the doubts that linger concerning his maturity and leadership capabilities.

I am assured that we are getting a big time playmaking wide receiver that will complement Arnaz Battle and help develop the youth that will spar over the third and fourth slots at this position.