It didn’t take former Patriots receiver Wes Welker long to find a new home. Just one day after the commencement of the NFL’s free agency period, he signed a two-year, $12 million deal with AFC rival Denver Broncos.
The Patriots were just as quick to find his replacement though, inking Danny Amendola to a five-year, $31 million deal just hours after Welker’s departure.
Fans are still aching from the loss of a fan favorite (and arguably the most productive receiver in Patriots history), but there is hope that Amendola’s arrival can help ease some of the suffering.
While it is unlikely he will match Welker’s output over the last five seasons—you don’t just replace 120 receptions and 1,300 yards—Amendola could become a very important part of the Patriots offense starting in 2013.
Before being traded to New England for two draft choices in 2007, Wes Welker was a relative unknown in Miami. In two seasons with the Dolphins he logged 96 receptions for 1,121 yards and a touchdown.
After joining the Patriots his production spiked—he caught a league-leading 112 passes for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns, earning All-Pro honors for the first time in his career. His success continued for the duration of his career in New England as he quickly became the NFL’s premier slot receiver.
Danny Amendola has put up similar numbers to Welker (pre-New England) in his four years with the St. Louis Rams. He averaged 63 receptions and 560 yards per season (excluding 2011 when he played in just one game due to injury). In 2012 he managed a respectable 666 yards with three touchdowns despite playing in just 11 games.
Perhaps Amendola just needs a slight push to get him over the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Playing in New England’s high-octane offense could get him there.
In the past decade New England has relied on a short-yardage, "dink and dunk" offense, utilizing receivers capable of racking up big yards after the catch. Even during the Randy Moss era—when the passing attack became more vertically oriented—the Patriots used Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk on various halfback/bubble screens not far from the line of scrimmage.
Former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead found immediate success as a receiver out of the backfield after he was acquired by New England in 2010. In one season with the Jets, he registered just eight receptions for 87 yards. But after joining the Patriots he averaged 31 catches and 327 yards receiving from 2010 to 2012.
According to a scouting report by Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com, Amendola has the necessary skills to perform in this system. Yates writes:
Amendola has terrific short area burst and quickness and is an exceptional route runner. He is light on his feet at the top of his routes and in his breaks, and is an elusive player who can slide through crevices between defenders.
Sounds an awful lot like a description of Wes Welker. If Amendola can establish solid chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady, he should have a seamless transition to New England.
A recurring theme with recent Patriots acquisitions seems to be their familiarity with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. That was the case in 2012 Brandon Lloyd, who was recently released by the Patriots, and now it is true of Danny Amendola.
Despite playing in just one game in 2011—the year McDaniels served as the OC of the St. Louis Rams—Amendola expressed excitement for being reunited with his former coach.
During his introductory conference call (via Boston.com) on March 15, Amendola had the following to say about McDaniels:
I loved playing for him even though I went down the first game that year and I didn’t get much after that first game. Just the familiarity I had already with the offense and what I feel like I can bring to the table, that’s what excites me the most.
Although Brandon Lloyd did not quite work out in McDaniel’s offense here in New England, there is reason to believe Amendola will.
No disrespect to Sam Bradford, but he is no Tom Brady.
Getting a chance to be in the huddle with a living legend at quarterback is a dream come true for any young receiver and now Danny Amendola will experience it himself.
He will come into New England as the third option, presumably behind tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and can expect to greatly eclipse his St. Louis figures.
In the past Tom Brady has made several mediocre to slightly above-average wide receivers—such as David Givens and Deion Branch—look like Pro Bowl-caliber players. It wasn’t until they left New England that we realized how much of their success was dependent on Brady.
After all, Wes Welker did not become a recognizable face until he teamed up with number 12.
Bill Belichick—one of the most brilliant minds in NFL history— will take stock of his new slot receiver’s broad skill set and exploit opposing defenses. As any defensive coordinator will tell you, slot receivers can be the toughest to game-plan for because of the mismatches they create.
Belichick has a history of discovering diamonds in the rough and turning them into standout players. Once again, look no further than Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead as the most recent examples.
If the three-time Coach of the Year didn't have confidence in Danny Amendola, he would't have signed him to a lucrative five-year deal which includes $10 million in guaranteed money.
In the last decade, “in Bill we trust” has become a popular slogan when referring to Belichick’s sometimes abstruse antics.
While there is certainly nothing puzzling about the Amendola signing, fans should once again remind themselves to trust Bill Belichick to do his job in replacing four-time All-Pro receiver Wes Welker.