Laurence Maroney traded to the Denver Broncos…


The Laurence Maroney era has ended — in New England, at least.

The Patriots traded the much-maligned, fifth-year running back to the Denver Broncos yesterday for a draft choice.

According to ESPN, the Patriots received a 2011 fourth-round pick while also sending Denver, which is coached by former Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels, a 2011 sixth-rounder. In other words, the Patriots surrendered a former first-round choice in Maroney — still only 25 — to move up two rounds in next year’s draft.

The Broncos are undoubtedly hoping they can do what the Patriots could not, and that was to get consistent, top-flight production from a player who topped their draft class four years ago.

The Patriots used the 21st overall pick on Maroney, who displayed power and explosiveness while rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at the University of Minnesota.

Maroney never approached those numbers during his sometimes tantalizing and frequently frustrating four seasons with the Patriots. However, he consistently generated passionate conversation among the Foxboro faithful, which was fairly united in its belief that this was one back who would never put his best foot forward here.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Maroney split the workload with Corey Dillon as a rookie and made the most of his touches, rushing for 745 yards on 175 carries (4.3 average) while scoring six touchdowns. He also missed two games due to a multitude of injuries that included a knee strain, torn rib cartilage and bum shoulder.

Maroney was handed the starting job the following season and ran for a team-high 835 yards while improving his average (4.5) and matching his TD total of six.

But Maroney missed three games due to injury, and then with expectations high he would finally have a breakout campaign, only played in three games in 2008.

Maroney landed on season-ending injured reserve with a shoulder injury that required surgery. His final numbers: 93 yards rushing, no touchdowns.

Although he remained healthy last season while rushing for a team-high 757 yards and scoring a career-high nine touchdowns, Maroney was castigated by fans for his indecisiveness after taking a handoff.

For better or worse, he repeatedly acknowledged the public criticism during conversations with the media. The tone was always light, the words weighty.

“Rough. That’s my statement — rough,” Maroney said during the early days of training camp this summer. “That’s how I have to be on the field — rough. I can’t go out there being all pretty. Then y’all going to say I’m dancing. You’re going to say tap shoes. I read it all.”

In addition to failing to get a proper read on where the holes and seams were in the defense, Maroney suddenly developed a propensity for fumbling.

He fumbled four times last season, losing them all, while handling the football 222 times. In his first three NFL seasons, he fumbled twice, losing one, while getting 552 touches.

All those bobbles led to a lot of inactivity as Maroney only got one carry over the final 11 quarters last season.

That trend continued this year as he only played in two preseason games and was inactive for Sunday’s season-opening win over the Bengals with a thigh injury.

The trade leaves the Patriots with four running backs: veterans Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor, all of whom are 33 or older, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who’s 25 and in his third season after going undrafted coming out of the University of Mississippi in 2008.

The foursome combined to rush for 118 yards on 23 carries (5.1 average) and added six receptions in Sunday’s win.

The departure of Maroney could signal the return of linebacker Marques Murrell, who was released Monday.

It also essentially closes the book on one of the worst drafts in franchise history. The Patriots made 10 picks in 2006, and only kicker Stephen Gostkowski, selected in the fourth round, remains with the team.

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