Watching the way the Wes Welker situation played out last offseason, Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola faced quite a daunting task when it came to having to replace the type of player Welker was in this offense.
Forget the production, because what we saw from Welker was really more due to a lack of options for Tom Brady at the wide receiver position. Welker’s 100+ catch seasons were obviously a big part of New England’s offense, but they were driven by the the fact tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were such a critical part of their passing game. From there, aside from those two players, there weren’t many other reliable options at the receiver position. Bey their final regular season game of 2012, Brady had worn out veterans Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd lining up with Welker, giving them little to no speed or explosion at that position.
This past offseason after losing Welker, they made the effort to inject some youth for Brady to throw to. They signed the then 27-year old Amendola, and later drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. From there they added undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins and brought back Julian Edelman. The result we saw early on was just how much the Patriots were missing that type of speed and quickness last season.
During the preseason, we caught a glimpse of it from Amendola. His 26-yard touchdown reception in their third exhibition game against the Buccaneers was an eye-opening moment and what many thought would hopefully be the start of a terrific season for him here in New England. Unfortunately a groin injury began to hamper him at the end of training camp and ultimately was exacerbated during the first half of the Buffalo Bills game in Week one after he re-aggravated it. He battled through the injury and made some critical receptions down the stretch during that win, but from there it took him out of the line-up for several weeks and more or less set the tone for his season. Toward the end of the year the veteran receiver tried to tell the media he was fine, but he appeared to be a shell of himself in the playoffs, which proved that clearly he wasn’t healthy.
In the postseason he caught just three passes during the Divisional round, along with finishing without a reception in the AFC Championship Game. Thanks to the fact LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley ran over the Colts in their first contest, the latter of the two games was the bigger story since Amendola’s ineffectiveness stood out after he wasn’t able to give them much of anything in Denver after being targeted just once.
He wasn’t alone, since injuries were obviously the story for much of 2013 as many of New England’s top names were either banged up or lost completely. While Amendola tried to be a warrior and gut it out, that doesn’t seem to be stopping the Patriots from potentially broaching the possibility of cutting their losses and moving on from him.
Danny Amendola’s production in 2013 was nearly half of what the team received from Julian Edelman. (USA TODAY Images)
Respected reporter Dan Pompeis of Bleacher Report reported that Amendola’s name has been floated in trade talks, which could see him moved this offseason as Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ front office try to do some salary cap maneuvering in order to keep some of their other important pieces in the fold. The veteran receiver signed a five-year, $28.5 million deal last offseason, and according to several reports that deal is the reference point that Julian Edelman’s agent may be using when the two sides begin discussing a new contract.
To a certain extent, if the reports regarding Edelman are true, it’s hard to blame his agent. In a contract season Edelman delivered this year, finishing as the team’s leading receiver with 105 receptions for 1056 yards and six touchdowns, as well as leading the team in first down receptions with 54. His overall production was nearly double that of Amendola, who finished second on the team in receptions having caught 54 passes for 633 yards and two touchdowns.
Where Edelman really excelled was on third down, finishing with 30 receptions for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 18 first downs.
Between that and his production returning punts, he’s basically put himself in a great position considering everything he brings to the table. The bigger issue is the fact that he fits in perfectly in this system, and he’s a guy who is constantly spotted at charity events with his teammates and appears to be a player who is well-liked in the locker room. At 27-years old if he’s able to sign a 3-5 year deal, this will likely be his one shot at cashing in. After the money that went Amendola’s way it’s hard not to feel like Edelman’s got a big raise coming. But for now Edelman’s future remains one of many decisions New England will have to make in the coming months and we’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out.
Otherwise, it’s tough to guess what the mindset may be in terms of the team’s current plans for Amendola. If Pompeis’ report is accurate, the fact Amendola’s name has even come up at all in trade talks leads you to wonder if the team is having second thoughts about the signing. Whether he likes it or not, his injury problems are unfortunately becoming a trend and the Patriots were hit hard enough with that bug this past season to realize that with the Brady/Belichick window closing, gambling on Amendola’s bad luck ending moving forward may be a chance they’re just not willing to take.
One thing we do know, this is a team that at this point needs to try and make sure they continue putting together a talented enough young nucleus in place for Brady in the next few seasons, and more importantly they need to try and create some consistency considering all of the issues they’ve faced in the passing game in recent years. After losing Welker to free agency, releasing Lloyd to his zombie fighting big screen career, losing Hernandez to a potential prison sentence, as well as getting Gronkowski back from his myriad of injuries only to lose him again to a knee injury, this is a group that is in dire need of continuity.
The coming season for Dobson, Thompkins, and Boyce is one that should be interesting to watch in terms of the development for all three, as each had some good moments this past season to build on. If New England can bring back Edelman and potentially add a veteran, regardless of whether or not Amendola is removed from the equation, it’s not a bad group heading into next season and one that should be even better provided they can add another tight end to the mix.
But for now Amendola’s future appears to be hanging in the balance. When healthy, he’s a terrific player with plenty of upside. The only problem is other than that first contest, the Patriots never really got to see it.
Whether or not he’ll get the opportunity to be the guy they hoped he would be remains to be seen. Considering how critical this offseason is going to be in terms of solidifying the 2014 version of this group, it’s a decision the Patriots are going to need to make sure they get right.