Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots free agent addition every day from February 18 through the start of NFL free agency on March 12.
Wes Welker is in the midst of yet another contract stalemate with the Patriots this offseason, only this dispute could bring about change.
The two sides tangoed once last year with the franchise tag ultimately being slapped on the perennial Pro Bowl wideout. The Patriots seem uninterested in paying Welker the 20-percent markup over last year’s $9.5 million — about $11.4 million — with another tag and no real progress made on an extension, making free agency look more likely every day.
Fortunately for Tom Brady, there are a number of premier wide receivers set to hit the market and among them is a Welker clone.
Danny Amendola has long been compared to Welker. From his college career at Texas Tech — also Welker’s alma meter — to his undersized frame (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and his primary role as a possession receiver, the comparisons are endless. Now, with Welker headed for the exit, Amendola could draw another parallel as Brady’s new favorite target.
Brady has relied on Welker more than any other Patriots receiver over the past five seasons, targeting him 156 times per season, and will likely continue focusing the passing attack around whoever is manning the slot. Amendola has proven he’s more than capable of handling such responsibilities, first with 85 catches on 123 targets in 2010 and again with 63 grabs on 101 targets in 2012. It’s also important to note that was done with Sam Bradford in the forever forsaken Rams offense.
So, production shouldn’t be an issue in switching over to Amendola in the slot. His addition would also add value for the Patriots, as that similar production would come at around $4-to-$5 million per year instead of the near $10 million Welker made last season.
The big question mark associated in the change would be Amendola’s health. After two strong seasons to begin his career, playing in 30 of a possible 32 games, the 27-year-old receiver has fallen victim to the injuries. Over the past two seasons, Amendola has only managed to play in 12 of the possible 32 games for the Rams. Comparatively, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Welker has missed just three games in his entire eight-year NFL career. So, durability will be a definite concern.
Looking past the potential injured reserve visits, however, Amendola has all the makings of a capable and productive receiver in this offense. His reception-to-target ratio (63 percent) in 2012 wasn’t quite as high as Welker’s (69 percent), but in his four-year career he’s caught 67 percent of his targets which is closer in line with the 71 percent Welker’s hauled in over the past four seasons. So, with Brady, not Bradford, throwing him passes, Amendola should see a steady increase on that front, too.
Losing a player with the talent and passion of Welker isn’t easy for any franchise, but business is business and value is value. The Patriots don’t make emotional moves, and as much as Welker is emotionally attached to this franchise forever they won’t compromise their future for an older receiver with double the salary.
Amendola isn’t Welker right now, and he may never be, but he is younger, quicker, nearly as productive and comes at a significant enough discount.
Just like Gerry Bertier, there’s no replacing a Wes Welker. But Amendola does possess Welker-like abilities and is probably the highest quality replacement the Patriots will find. There is no ideal way to end such a productive relationship, but making a swap like this would definitely be the most effective way to move forward.
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