ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Tim Tebow has lost his top target even before making 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.
While the trade provides opportunities for young receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Matt Willis, it also opens the organization to increased scrutiny in the midst of its 1-4 start.
"We think it's a position of strength," Broncos coach John Fox said of his receiving corps. "We've got some guys coming back — Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Royal — and (we like) the emergence of Eric Decker."
Lloyd said the trade was a mutual effort. He said he wanted to be a featured receiver in a more pass-oriented offence and thought his departure was best not just for his own career but for those of the receivers he left behind.
And Lloyd stressed his desire to leave Denver was unrelated to the Broncos' quarterback switch last week.
"This had nothing to do with Tim," Lloyd told 104.3 The Fan radio station in Denver. "I'm like everybody else, I find it hard not to like the kid and I have a lot of respect for him and a lot of respect for what he wants to accomplish in his career.
"I think this move creates the space for Denver to really find out what they want to do with the organization and the same thing for me. It puts me in a situation where maybe a team will want to look at me long-term or maybe I can fill a void for a season for St. Louis and get those guys back on track."
Now that Orton's no longer calling the plays, the Broncos are expected to go to even more of a ball-control offence under Tebow, a scrambler and a 49 per cent career passer.
In St. Louis, Lloyd will be reunited with former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, now the co-ordinator of a Rams offence that has stumbled with so many of Sam Bradford's receivers banged up.
"That helps tremendously. There shouldn't be any kind of learning curve," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said.
The Rams said they sent a sixth-rounder to Denver that could turn into a fifth-rounder if Lloyd catches 30 passes for St. Louis, something all parties certainly expect to happen.
"He's made a lot of big plays in the NFL," Devaney said. "He's got size, good hands, (is) a polished route runner. He's got a knack for making a big play. We're going to put him in the mix."
Lloyd said he would play Sunday against Dallas and was excited for his reunion with McDaniels and eager to work with Bradford and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo.
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 283 yards and no touchdowns.
Broncos football chief John Elway said he appreciated Lloyd's hard work and wished him well, adding via Twitter: "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."
The remaining receivers learned of Lloyd's departure when he was absent from their morning meeting Monday.
"It's, 'The decision has been made, it's you guys left in the room, let's make the most of it, go out there and play hard,'" Decker said of management's message. "Nothing's changed. Guys aren't scared. They just know that more opportunities are here now and we've got to make the most of them."
Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010, 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.
"If I ever say a bad word about Denver, the Broncos, the players, the people in the organization, then that would be a mistake on my part," Lloyd told 104.3 The Fan. "The city, the media, the players on that team, the organization, took me in at a point in my career where no one else wanted me and they gave me an opportunity to showcase my talents and showcase that I still had skills and I could still play in this league.
"This is definitely not a disgruntled player leaving. This is just a player and an organization doing what's best for them."
The Rams (0-5) are averaging less than 10 points a game and they've lacked a finishing touch. They outgained the Packers on Sunday but lost 24-3 after deactivating Mike Sims-Walker, whom they released Monday to make room for Lloyd.
Danny Amendola, who led the team in receiving last year, is on injured reserve after dislocating his left elbow in the opener.
So they've gone with a young unsung crew that includes undrafted receivers Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander and rookies Greg Salas and Austin Pettis. Veteran Mark Clayton is set to come off the PUP list.
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 and Thomas both practiced Monday and expect to play Sunday against the Dolphins.
Thomas has been sidelined all year, first with a torn right Achilles tendon and then with a fractured left pinkie that occurred in his first padded practice last month.
"I feel like they traded Lloyd, they need somebody to show up and I feel I can be that guy," Thomas said.
Like it was a week earlier over Orton's benching, the Broncos' locker room was melancholy following Lloyd's exit.
"One of the most talented players I've played with," Champ Bailey said. "I wish him well. It (stinks) to lose a guy with that kind of talent.
"When you look at it from a front office standpoint, if he's going to leave after the season, better get something for him now," Bailey added. "It's almost like that Carmelo (Anthony) deal. It's just the way it is, the nature of the business. You take a hit like that, you keep on moving."
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and R.B. Fallstrom contributed. AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton can be reached at astapleton(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/arniestapleton