Maroney dealt to the Broncos

Patriots will receive a fourth-round pick

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / September 15, 2010

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The Patriots severed ties with former first-round pick Laurence Maroney yesterday, shipping the oft-confounding running back to the Denver Broncos.

In exchange for Maroney’s services and their own sixth-round pick in 2011, the Patriots received the Broncos’ fourth-round pick next year.

Efforts to reach Maroney were unsuccessful.

The trade marks the end of a less-than-perfect relationship between the Patriots and Maroney, the 21st overall pick in 2006 out of Minnesota who often struggled between what came naturally to him as a running back and what the Patriots wanted him to do.

There were also injury issues — Maroney didn’t play a full season in his four years with the team — and a belief within the organization that he didn’t mature and wasn’t as conscientious as it would have liked, never doing all of the little things and extra things that can make a big difference for backs.

Heading to Denver apparently was meant to be for Maroney, who is in the fi nal year of his five-year rookie contract. When he came out of Minnesota, former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan very nearly drafted him, telling the Rocky Mountain News before the Broncos’ 2006 meeting with the Patriots that when Denver looked at Maroney, “We thought he had everything.’’

But he was taken by New England, and for one season, Maroney and Corey Dillon made quite a tandem. The hard-running veteran welcomed Maroney’s arrival; Dillon was able to become more of a red-zone back that year, scoring 13 touchdowns, while the shifty rookie liked to work in space.

The two combined for 1,557 yards and 19 scores on 374 carries.

Expected to step into the lead role in his second season, Maroney did lead New England with 835 yards (averaging 4.5 yards per carry) in 13 games, but it was the closest he has come to reaching the 1,000-yard plateau.

He ended the season that year on a definite high note, topping 100 yards in four of five games, including the first two playoff games.

In 2008, what turned out to be a broken shoulder blade limited Maroney to three games. In one, he endured public ridicule when he ran out of bounds against the 49ers rather than lower his shoulder to take on a defender. That led to an odd give-and-take with reporters later that week during one of the Patriots’ California practices, when Maroney said he had “issues,’’ but wouldn’t elaborate.

He rebounded well last year, playing in 15 games. But another issue popped up: fumbles. Maroney, who hadn’t fumbled since his rookie year, suddenly had trouble holding onto the football, fumbling on the goal line in Indianapolis and New Orleans, plus two other times.

He was benched for the regular-season finale in Houston, and sat down early in the playoff loss to Baltimore.

With Maroney gone, there is but one player remaining from New England’s 10-player 2006 draft class: kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

The move leaves New England with three thirtysomething backs in Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk, as well as BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is 25. Taylor, who started the season opener against Cincinnati Sunday and averaged 5.1 yards on 14 carries, would appear to have the starting spot locked up for now.

But Taylor has struggled to stay on the field throughout his 13-year career. For the Jaguars, with whom he spent his first 11 years, he played in 16 games just twice, in 2002 and 2003. Last season, his first with New England, he played in seven games, missing 10 regular-season games because of ankle surgery.

Before going on the shelf, the 34-year-old Taylor had a vintage performance against the Falcons in Week 3 with 109 yards and a touchdown.

He has looked strong thus far, but given the histories of Taylor and Morris — who hasn’t played a full season since coming to New England in 2007 — it is difficult to imagine that both will make it through the schedule unscathed.

New England has retooled its passing game, adding three new tight ends, and the Patriots may simply get away from the ground game and dare defenses to find answers for Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Alge Crumpler, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski. It is a tall order, to be sure.

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