At the time, it seemed apparent that the Patriots had to have other plans. As things stand, the Patriots were thin at wide receiver; there's still a question of whether they or not will retain Brandon Lloyd.
Last week, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com suggested that the Patriots might be planning to replace Welker with free agent Danny Amendola.
Just hours after letting Welker walk, the Patriots did exactly that.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Patriots signed Amendola, 27, to a five-year deal worth $31 million, with $10 million guaranteed.
This is an interesting comparison to 2007, when the Patriots traded a second- and seventh-round pick to acquire a 26-year-old Wes Welker from the Miami Dolphins. Welker, a restricted free agent at the time, received a five-year deal worth just $18 million.
Looking back, it appears neither Welker nor the Patriots expected his unprecedented productivity over the last six seasons.
In his last season in Miami, Welker had 67 catches for 687 yards and one touchdown. Last year, with the St. Louis Rams, Amendola had 66 catches for 666 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, neither Sam Bradford, throwing to Amendola, nor the three-headed QB monster of Joey Harrington, Gus Frerotte, and Daunte Culpepper that threw to Welker in 2006 are in the same league as Tom Brady, who'll be slinging the pigskin to Amendola in 2013.
At the moment, there's no way to project how this signing will turn out. One clear difference between Amendola and Welker is that Welker has proven more durable than Amendola, having missed only three games in his six seasons with New England. On the other hand, Amendola's injuries have not been of the "nagging hamstring" variety, but rather the freak variety. (His clavicle injury last year was so gruesome that one Rams official fainted on learning its severity.)
It's also clear that Welker and Amendola are not exactly the same player, even though both of them played for Mike Leach in Texas Tech's Air Raid offense: Amendola is bigger and at least a little faster.
Finally, it's not clear that the Patriots intend to continue their offensive schemes exactly as they have been. Regardless of the Patriots' pending decision on Lloyd, they seem determined to bolster the tight end position (they have six under contract), and it seems quite likely that the Patriots will be using two or even three tight ends on most plays.
For the moment, the Patriots have a replacement for Welker. Whether or not he's an actual upgrade from Welker remains to be seen.
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