So Wes Welker is a Denver Bronco, and we will watch him catch 100+ passes from Peyton Manning.  And Danny Amendola is a New England Patriot, and we hope we will watch him catch a ton of passes from Tom Brady.  How did we get here?

The Patriots acquired Welker before the 2007 season for their 2nd and 7th round picks.  They then signed him to a 5-year, $18.1 million contract, making him a Patriot through the 2011 season.  Over those 5 years, Welker played in 77 out of a possible 80 regular season games, averaging 111 receptions, 1221 yards, and 6 td a year.

Last year, the Patriots offered Welker a 2-year, $16 million contract (all $16 million guaranteed). ¬†Welker refused and ended up playing for $9.5 million in 2012 under the franchise tag. ¬†As soon as he signed that, he tweeted, “I signed my tender today. I love the game and I love my teammates! Hopefully doing the right thing gets the right results. #leapoffaith”. ¬†The “#leapoffaith” hashtag indicated that he was hoping he would be able to sign a longer-term deal under favorable conditions, but the Patriots came back with an even lower offer. ¬†Naturally, he did not sign that either.

Playing for that $9.5 million, Welker opened the season in a strange situation. ¬†Having played an average of 90%, and never less than 75%, of the Patriots’ offensive snaps during his tenure with the Patriots, he played just 64% of their offensive snaps in the season opener against Tennessee, catching 3 passes for 14 yards. ¬†Speculation ran rampant as to what was going on (see, for example, this article here: ¬†http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/blog/nfl-rapidreports/20139713/patriots-notebook-is-wes-welker-being-phased-out).

As this piece points out (http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-total-access/0ap1000000064168/Is-Wes-Welker-being-phased-out), the Patriots were making a philosophical shift in their offensive scheme, using the two TE, two outside WR set, and Julian Edelman’s skill set suited that philosophy better. ¬†But then Aaron Hernandez went down with an ankle injury, and the Patriots made an adjustment. ¬†Welker was back in his slot role and he ended up with his usual eye-popping stats (118 rec, 1354 yds, 6 td).

Fast-forward to the end of the 2012 season. ¬†Welker put up big numbers in the playoffs (2 games, 16 rec, 248 yds, 1 td), but the Patriots lost to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. ¬†The discussion in New England turned to their roster for 2013, and first and foremost was talk about Wes Welker. ¬†Did the Patriots want Welker back, and did Welker want to come back? ¬†Well, it’s hard to say. ¬†It would seem crazy to think that the Patriots would not want one of the greatest receivers in their franchise history back, and it would also seem crazy to think that Welker would not want to return. ¬†But the final numbers suggest that each side prioritized their own economics over wanting the marriage to last.


Wes Welker’s departure makes you wonder how we got to this point? (FILE:USPresswire)

The Patriots did not apply the franchise tag to him, and no agreement was reached prior to free agency, so Welker was free to negotiate with other teams. ¬†Reports surfaced that the Patriots had sent him a “lowball” or “laughable” offer. ¬†He ended up receiving from the Broncos a 2 year, $12 million deal. ¬†Welker thus took a serious pay cut to play for Denver, just as he would have taken a serious pay cut to play for the Patriots. ¬†We found out that the Patriots had offered Welker a 2-year, $10 million deal with incentives that could take the deal up to $18 million. ¬†Welker apparently felt that those incentives were unattainable, so let’s pretend that the incentives were not in there. ¬†Was a 2-year, $10 million offer “laughable”? ¬†If you had asked most fans and experts during the middle of the season, the answer probably would have said yes. ¬†But the fact is, on the open market, the best offer Welker could get was 2 years, $12 million. ¬†So 2 years, $10 million was hardly “laughable”. ¬†In fact, as things turned out, it was a pretty accurate assessment of the market.

Why didn’t the Patriots go a little higher for Welker? ¬†This is where we get back to the whole “did they want him” conversation. ¬†Sure they wanted him. ¬†But they wanted him for $5 million a year, not $6 million a year. ¬†Could they have gone higher? ¬†Yes, of course. ¬†But they tend to place a value on a player and hold to it, so they wanted him, but not for more money than they were willing to spend on him. ¬†It goes the other way too, of course. ¬†Did Welker want to remain a Patriot? ¬†Well, yes he did, but just to a degree. ¬†He could have taken just $1 million less per year to remain in a situation he knew was good for him. ¬†But he didn’t. ¬†In fact, Ron Borges has reported that Welker never even gave the Patriots a chance to match Denver’s offer (which may have been a condition Denver placed on the offer in the first place). ¬†So just as New England preferred to remain at 2/10 rather than spend more to keep Welker, Welker preferred 2/12 rather than remain with the Patriots. ¬†So each side may have wanted the marriage to last, but only at their terms.

With Welker gone, the Patriots had a huge hole to fill at WR. ¬†Rumors had circulated for weeks about Danny Amendola as a possible fit, so it wasn’t too surprising to find out later in the day yesterday that they had indeed signed him. ¬†What was surprising was the contract: ¬†5 years, $31 million. ¬†Doing the math, that comes to $6.2 million a year, which is $100,000 a year more per year than Welker got from Denver. ¬†It has long been agreed by most experts that Amendola would be a good fit for the Patriots, so it is understandable why they would want to acquire him. ¬†But why were they willing to pay Amendola more money than they offered Welker? ¬†That was the shocking part.

Let’s try to see this from New England’s perspective. ¬†What does Amendola bring that Welker may not? ¬†Well, Amendola is 5 years younger, two inches taller, and is both quicker (measured by the 3-cone drill) and faster. ¬†He’s a bigger, faster, and younger version of Welker. ¬†Those factors alone may be sufficient for Belichick to feel that the money spent on Amendola represented a better investment moving forward than it would be with Welker.

But Welker is someone we know can be tremendously productive in this offense.  We do not know that about Amendola.  Are there football skills that Amendola brings to the table that Welker could not match?  Welker is one of the toughest and most consistent receivers Рslot or otherwise Рin the NFL.  Amendola has never put up the kind of numbers Welker has.  But that is a bit of an unfair comparison.  Welker has spent the last 5 years catching passes from the greatest QB of all-time in Tom Brady, while Amendola has been catching passes from Sam Bradford.  A better comparison would be Welker before he came to New England versus Amendola.

Welker’s best season before arriving in New England was in 2006, when Welker was 25. ¬†He played in Miami, catching passes from Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington, and Daunte Culpepper. ¬†He had 67 receptions for 687 yards and 1 td. ¬†Amendola’s best season was in 2010, at age 25, catching passes from Bradford. ¬†He had 85 receptions for 689 yards and 3 td. ¬†This does not mean that Amendola is destined to catch 111 passes a season. ¬†But it does mean that Amendola has plenty of ability to be a successful NFL receiver.

Amendola, being bigger and faster, is a better outside receiver than Welker is, and that is the direction the Patriots appear to be wanting to move with the position.  He can also play the slot, so he brings the Patriots more flexibility.  And he may have a better set of hands than Welker has, which may come as a surprise to people.  Consider these numbers from the last 3 seasons:

  • Welker – 326 receptions, 28 drops, 8.6% drop rate
  • Amendola – 153 receptions, 9 drops, 5.9% drop rate

So Welker, even though he’s been an amazing receiver for the Patriots, drops the ball at a significantly higher rate than Amendola does. ¬†So Amendola is bigger, faster, younger, and has better hands.

The remaining two issues, though, are: ¬†(1) Is Amendola as durable as Welker, and (2) Will he thrive in New England’s offense? ¬†The second one is a guess, but a reasonable guess is yes. ¬†He’s a terrific player with a lot of ability, and terrific receivers tend to do well with Tom Brady throwing the football. ¬†He might not put up Welker’s numbers (possibly because a change in philosophy will spread the ball out more) but he should be good.

The first issue, however, is the big one.  Welker is as tough and durable as they come, and Amendola has missed a lot of time with injuries.  Of a possible 64 games over the past 4 seasons, Amendola has played in just 42 of them.  He has suffered three serious injuries that have forced him to miss 22 games over that time period.  Welker, meanwhile, has played in just about every regular season game during his time in New England.

One question related to this is whether Amendola is “injury prone” or if those injuries are of the more “freakish” variety. ¬†He suffered a dislocated elbow that cost him almost the entire 2011 season, and he had a serious shoulder injury in 2012 that, according to this report (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/danny-amendola-injury-could-life-threatening-173715914–nfl.html), could have been life-threatening. ¬†Jay Glazer of foxsports.net wrote that, “the Rams called around the league to find a case of another player suffering a similar injury, but they could not find one”, so obviously that injury was a very rare thing. ¬†And lest we forget, Wes Welker did suffer his own enormous freak injury when he tore his ACL in the last game of the 2009 regular season on a play where he wasn’t even hit by anyone. ¬†If that freak injury – which certainly could have happened at any time – had occurred at the start of the 2010 season instead of the end of 2009, Welker’s games played per season average would look a lot different today.

The bottom line is that the Patriots no longer have Wes Welker and instead they have Danny Amendola.  They are one of the best-run franchises in all of sports, not just the NFL.  Generally, they make correct decisions with respect to personnel.  It is difficult to see how losing Welker and replacing him with Amendola for the same amount of money is a wise move, but it is equally difficult to make the case that the Patriots will be anything less than a very good team in 2013.