When Danny Amendola went out with an elbow injury in the first half of the 2011 season opener—an injury that turned out to be season ending—the majority of people understood it was a big loss for the St. Louis Rams, but few people realized how vital he actually was.
After all, while he was a factor in 2010 with 85 catches, he averaged a mere 8.1 yards per catch. And as an unknown practice-squad addition in 2009, he didn't carry any real prestige.
Since Sam Bradford had such a remarkable rookie campaign, most probably assumed that he was a huge part of Amendola's 2010 success. And if Bradford turned a practice-squad wonder into an 85-catch receiver, why couldn't he do the same with another receiver in Amendola's absence?
Amendola has been called a "No. 3 receiver at best" by the media, and the thought of him as the Rams' top receiver literally caused Brian Billick to break out in laughter during a segment leading up the 2011 season.
One has to wonder if Billick is still laughing. Doubtful.
In the 18 games Amendola has missed since 2011, the Rams have a 1-17 record. On the contrary, they're a much-improved 3-3 with him in the lineup, or 10-12 if you include 2010.
Amendola averaged 43.1 yards per game in 2010 but is averaging 82.8 yards per game in 2012. (Who knew players had the ability to improve? What a concept.)
It's fair to say Amendola has arrived as an elite playmaker in this league. And given Wes Welker's age (31), there's not a slot receiver in the league that the Rams would take over Amendola.
Sam Bradford and Danny Amendola
Sam Bradford has used Danny Amendola as a deep threat in 2012, which is something we rarely witnessed in 2010.
But first and foremost, Amendola will always be Bradford's security blanket in the short-yardage game.
Amendola's presence not only improves the team's third-down efficiency, but takes the pressure off Bradford and allows him to avoid sacks.
If Bradford doesn't have Amendola to provide a quick option, it results in him eating a lot of dirt.
But now that Amendola has improved on deep routes—while Bradford has improved on his deep ball—we aren't just seeing the "dink n' dunk," but we're getting a bit of this as well:
Amendola is a leader on the field—there's no doubt about that—but what fans don't always see is his locker room leadership and intensity on the sidelines.
During the Scott Linehan era, we seldom saw players display this kind of intensity:
However, Amendola's production has brought on quite a dilemma.
He has been a restricted free agent in the past, and the Rams were able to retain him last offseason by protecting him with a second-round tender—a price no team was willing to pay for a player who just missed an entire season.
Amendola is currently riding a one-year contract worth over $1.9 million (according to Spotrac), but he'll be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and free to test the market.
With James Laurinaitis and Chris Long recently signed to long-term extensions, the Rams have no premier players entering free agency in 2013, which could allow them to use a franchise tag on Amendola.
It would keep Amendola in St. Louis, but it would force the Rams to pay him Calvin Johnson money for a season.
For the sake of Bradford and the future of the team, the right thing to do is a long-term deal.
Amendola has been undervalued in the past. Let's not make that mistake again.