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Patriots made mistake with Amendola over Welker, but one game likely won’t prove it

Posted by Adam Kaufman  January 16, 2014 07:01 AM

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This week, we’re taking a look at some of the most popular topics entering Sunday’s AFC Championship between the Patriots and Broncos.

So far, it’s been a quarterback conversation in this space. In all likelihood, this weekend will feature the last meaningful game between legends Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. And, if the Pats have any hope of winning, Brady will have more individual pressure on him than perhaps any other point in his career – something that ironically suits the Broncos just fine.

This next matter has been debated all season long…

Were the Patriots correct in signing Danny Amendola over Wes Welker?

Danny Amendola Patriots.jpg

You’ll hear everything rehashed this week, if you haven’t already.

If the Pats win this weekend, defeating Welker along the way, they made the right decision.

Well, maybe it would sting less, but that’s a simplistic outlook.

Say Welker makes seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, but Amendola grabs three balls for 45 yards in a Patriots win, does that mean New England shouldn’t have matched Denver’s 2-year, $12 million offer?

What if Amendola is the beneficiary of two touchdowns, 10 receptions, and 117 yards, while Welker and his Marvin the Martian/Juggernaut helmet are knocked out of the game with a third concussion in the second quarter, but the Broncos advance? Right move, Pats?

It’s hard to boil the decision down to the performances in one game, unless Amendola is a substantial part of a Patriots victory. It would be like defining Welker’s time in Foxborough by two missed opportunities in the postseason. Plenty of people do it, but it’s hardly fair and certainly doesn’t tell his story.

If the Patriots had Welker, they’d be the ones hosting the AFC title game.

It’s a reasonable notion, and also one that’s impossible to quantify.

The Pats frustratingly lost their four regular season games, including one in overtime, by a combined 18 points. Sure, they may have won one of those for a 13th win, taken the tie-breaker with their Week 12 triumph of the Broncos, and invited another busy Sunday on Rt. 1 with Welker in the fold rather than Amendola. But we can’t possibly know.

Welker’s established relationship with Brady undoubtedly would have aided the quarterback in those first half-dozen games when Amendola missed most of his action with a groin injury and Brady was without Rob Gronkowski and struggling to gel with an assortment of rookies. However, the Pats still won all but one of those contests. Would Welker have made the difference in Cincinnati, or put his team a step ahead of the Jets with Amendola on the sidelines?

Their numbers prove the Pats screwed up.

Injuries somewhat evened the playing field here. Skeptics like me of the Amendola signing expected the 28-year-old receiver to get hurt, while the 32-year-old Welker was always regarded for being Mr. Durable. This year, the hits caught up to the veteran. He suffered two concussions after who knows how many over the first nine years of his career.

Wes Welker Broncos.jpg

As it played out, both underperformed, but Welker held the edge in games (13 vs. 12), receptions (73 vs. 54), yards (778 vs. 633), touchdowns (a career-high 10 vs. 2) and, maybe most important, his team’s wins (13 vs. 12). Narrowing that last category down to the games played, the Broncos won 11 times with Welker on the field to the Patriots’ nine with Amendola. In the end, both clubs earned first-round byes, won their divisional games, and now one will play for the Lombardi trophy.

Immeasurable is that Welker’s numbers may have been much better – at least his catches and yards – working with Brady rather than in a historically proficient Broncos offense where he wasn’t Manning’s first option. One could easily argue a demerit for Amendola, since the stats he was expected to produce as a go-to slot receiver were stolen by Julian Edelman once he proved more reliable.

This debate is stupid; Edelman is the new Welker, not Amendola.

Julian Edelman 2.jpg

Now, perhaps, but that wasn’t the plan. Amendola was the supposed second choice to Welker.

The suddenly indispensable Edelman rejoined the Patriots in the offseason at the veteran’s minimum after drawing little interest in free agency. He was never expected to make 105 catches for 1,056 yards. Both totals are about three times his previous career-highs, set in 2009. The Pats lucked out in tapping into Edelman’s success and once-elusive health.

The Patriots could have signed all three of those tiny slot receivers!

It’s true, the Pats didn’t spend to the cap and could technically have signed Edelman, Amendola, and Welker, but it would never have happened. New England targeted Emmanuel Sanders in free agency as an outside threat, couldn’t have foreseen the incarceration of Aaron Hernandez, and planned on a healthy Gronkowski for at least the latter half of the season. Add that group to Shane Vereen (who also missed significant time with a broken wrist) and an emerging rookie or two and the Pats didn’t need three guys capable of playing the same position, even if they could afford them.

New England assumed Amendola would be healthy based on the freak nature of his previous ailments, and viewed him as a younger, faster, similarly-skilled alternative to an aging but productive Welker.

Even if Amendola’s injuries had been foretold, the rest wasn’t.

Amendola’s here and the world didn’t end.

The Patriots still made the playoffs after letting Welker go and may even win a Super Bowl. Odds are they won’t, but that’s less about not having Welker and more about the increasing number of starters hanging out in the infirmary.

When the Pats allowed their relationship with Welker to deteriorate to the point he left – whether because the team low-balled him in negotiations, or because he was simply ready for a change of scenery – I had one overwhelming thought that couldn’t be calculated until season’s end:

How much will the Patriots’ offense suffer without arguably the best receiver in franchise history? If minimally, the Amendola-Welker debate is irrelevant. If substantially, they should have done whatever was necessary to bring Welker back.

In 2013, New England averaged 27.8 points per game. Brady completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 25 touchdowns and 4,343 yards, and the team net 255.4 passing yards per game.

Last season, the club scored 34.8 points a game as Brady converted 62.7 percent of his attempts for 34 TDs and 4,827 yards, an average of 291.4 net passing yards per contest.

Wes Welker Patriots.jpg

Granted, the Pats had Brandon Lloyd and a mostly-healthy Gronkowski and Hernandez in 2012, but the drop-off is still significant. Under the circumstances, Welker had arguably his second-best season because he was relied upon even more heavily than usual whenever a top tight end was unavailable and he responded. There’s not guaranteeing he would have done so again this year, but it’s not outlandish to believe in that reality. After all, this is the guy who averaged 112 catches and 1,243 yards a year with the Pats – and that includes north of 100 receptions and 1,000 yards from Matt Cassel.

If Welker wanted out, he made the right choice in selecting his destination. If the Patriots lost him over $2 million or drama involving his agents, that’s inexcusable.

Either way, I remain firm in my belief the Patriots – even with all of their injuries – would be a stronger team with Welker than Amendola, though the debate is much closer than it once seemed for one reason.

The Pats are still playing.

But the list of those to thank for that is awfully long before arriving at Amendola.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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