NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
Although New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently reiterated his interest in retaining wide receiver Wes Welker in free agency, Welker has officially left the club in favor of a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos worth a fully-guaranteed $12 million. He will join Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker in Peyton Manning’s intriguing stable of targets.
Not long after Welker departed, the Patriots secured his successor, agreeing to terms with wide receiver Danny Amendola, formerly of the St. Louis Rams, on a five-year, $31 million deal with $10 million in guaranteed money. Read on to find out what this means for the Patriots in 2013 and beyond.
Welker’s chemistry with Brady was outstanding, so from a short-term perspective the Patriots may be negatively impacted by his loss. Welker caught 134 passes out of a staggering 191 targets this season (including his 16/25 receiving over New England’s two playoff games), both of which are figures that Amendola has yet to approach thus far in any individual season. It remains to be seen whether the Patriots plan on trying to directly replace Welker with Amendola, or if they will favor their running game and tight ends more heavily in the future.
Based on what New England has invested in Amendola, the former option appears more likely. Had New England planned on evolving their offensive philosophy to compensate for losing Welker, they could have opted for a player such as Julian Edelman or former Cleveland Browns receiver Joshua Cribbs as an auxiliary component of the offense. Instead, they have committed to Amendola for an average of $6.2 million per season, suggesting that he will assume a highly visible role in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ aerial attack.
Amendola should be asked to execute the same option routes Welker mastered during his time with the team; the former St. Louis Rams receiver’s experience under Josh McDaniels should help ease the post-Welker transition. He is similarly productive in the short-to-intermediate range, and offers a more reliable, sure-handed target for Brady over the middle. In 2012, he dropped just two of his 95 targets, compared to Welker’s nineteen drops.
Obviously, durability is a concern with Amendola, as he has missed a significant amount of time over the past two seasons; Amendola’s previous injuries inject a measure of risk into New England’s strategy. Amendola has played in just twelve games over the past two seasons, and the prospect of being without Amendola for a playoff run must be considered.
Losing Welker to Denver is painful, but the Patriots managed to alleviate the blow by making a reasonable long-term investment in a young player who can prevent Josh McDaniels from having to reconfigure the offense to compensate for Welker’s absence. Today’s moves may not have separated New England from the pack – the Broncos have certainly gained ground – but the Patriots’ decision to pay Amendola over Welker indicates that the team plans to keep the championship window open for years to come.