By Sterling Pingree
In the 2013 NFL off season, Wes Welker was coming off of his 6th season with the New England Patriots and his 5th year with more than 100 catches. That summer, Welker signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent. This was a tough defection for Patriots fans to stomach, not only was arguably the greatest receiver in team history leaving, he was joining Peyton Manning in Denver. Talk about a double stomach punch.
Only a few hours after Welker’s mile high deal was announced, news broke that the Patriots had signed Rams slot receiver Danny Amendola. At that time, Amendola was seen as a star in the making, if he could only stay healthy. Toughness wasn’t a problem, as Amendola almost died on the field from a freak shoulder injury in 2012, it was simply that he seemed prone to serious injury when he was playing at his best. Patriots fans thought the team was getting another potential diamond in the rough as the Texas Tech alum was entering his prime at 27 years old, while Welker (coincidentally, also a Texas Tech guy) would be 32 when the next season started.
We know the sad ending of Wes Welker’s career; he played one good year in Denver when they set a host of offensive records and got blown out in the Super Bowl vs Seattle. But concussions effectively ended his career after two seasons as a Bronco. Amendola never matched the production that Welker had, but shockingly, he didn’t have to because Julian Edelman emerged as Brady’s new safety blanket from the dawning of what was thought to be the Amendola-era.
Julian Edelman lifted the burden off of Amendola from day one-post Welker and became Tom Brady’s best receiver and favorite target. In 2013, with the buzz surrounding Amendola, it was Edelman who had 151 targets and 105 catches. Amendola, while missing 4 games due to injury, was targeted just 83 times for 54 catches.
Edelman has become a star in New England, grabbing the role that Amendola seemed destined to play but a weird thing has happened in the interim in that fans have never viewed Amendola as any kind of a bust. With the expectations that fans had initially about Amendola 4 years ago, his play so far would absolutely draw the ire of Patriots fans if it wasn’t for the play of Julian Edelman. Amendola’s high for catches in a season is 65 in 2015 and his high water mark for touch downs is 4 in 2016.
This isn’t to say that Amendola isn’t a valuable piece of this team, he is after all the only Patriot to score touch downs in the last two Super Bowls. Not only that, has any player ever taken a pay cut in three consecutive years to stay on a team? That has to be a first.
Although, maybe Amendola was always destined for a supporting role in New England but last week it didn’t seem so in the first three quarters against Kansas City. With Edelman out for the season, a bigger load was going to be placed on the remaining members of the receiving corps and it seemed wide open as to who would grab the brass ring as Brady’s new slot machine. For most of the game, it looked like Danny Amendola was finally going to be that guy as he had 6 catches, 100 yards and was getting open on every 3rd down. Unfortunately, we know how this story ended, with a Patriots loss and Amendola in concussion protocol. Maybe this season could have been Amendola’s shot at being the top receiver in the Patriots offense, now for the time being it seems that we may be destined never to find out. But with Edelman sidelined for the entire season, if Amendola can get healthy, opportunity may finally be knocking on his door.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.