When the New England Patriots let one of the most productive wide receivers in franchise history walk last offseason, the team wasted no time coming to terms with his apparent replacement. Immediately after joining the Patriots, Danny Amendola was quick to temper expectations that he could fill the void left by Wes Welker when he departed via free agency to join the Denver Broncos. Perhaps Amendola knew something we didn’t, because while Welker’s production was effectively replaced, it was not a result of his play. It was Julian Edelman who eventually became Tom Brady’s most trusted receiver, not Amendola. The Patriots likely knew that either Amendola or Edelman would thrive in Welker’s absence and just weren’t quite sure which player would emerge. Well, we now know that Edelman is the more productive receiver and if the Patriots are confident they can bring Edelman back, the team should free up some cap space and part ways with Amendola.
Cutting Amendola would free up the cap space the Patriots need to pursue a more dynamic outside receiver, something they need much more than another slot receiver, or perhaps the additional pass rusher the team was lacking in 2013. Amendola agreed to a five year contract last year worth nearly 30 million dollars and in 2014 his contract will cost the Patriots 4.5 million dollars against the salary cap. That figure will increase throughout the course of Amendola’s contract to 5.5 million in 2015, 6.5 million in 2016, and 7.5 million in 2017. Given these numbers, the Patriots would have to be very confident in Amendola’s ability to become a more productive asset to the Patriots offense in 2014. And the team may very well think that, but there are many compelling reasons to part ways with Amendola beyond his cap number.
Amendola and Tom Brady never seemed to develop the kind of chemistry that Edelman and Brady have or that Welker enjoyed with Brady. Whether that was a result of Amendola’s injuries early in the season or the simple fact that Brady trusted other receivers more is hard to discern. But the fact is that the two just didn’t click the way the team had hoped and if Edelman returns and tight end Rob Gronkowski is able to get back on the field consistently in 2014, Amendola will struggle to be targeted consistently.
But can the Patriots afford to cut Amendola given the uncertainty surrounding Edelman, who may choose to test the waters of free agency after a career year? That may very well be the Patriots strategy with Amendola: wait and see if they can sign Edelman before making a decision to keep or to cut Amendola. It’s safe to assume that if they can’t bring Edelman back, it’s much more likely that Amendola will be catching passes from Tom Brady in 2014. But the the Patriots do have other options at slot receiver beyond Edelman and Amendola. 2013 rookie receiver Josh Boyce, who showed some flashes of explosiveness toward the end of this past season, is certainly an option in the slot should Edelman opt to get more money elsewhere. The Patriots also still have T.J. Moe under contract who they signed as an undrafted rookie free agent last offseason. While Moe spent 2013 on IR with a torn achilles tendon, he earned more guaranteed money than any of the Patriots undrafted rookie free agents last year, so the team clearly thinks highly of the slot receiver.
If the team can come to terms with Edelman, it will likely be a multi-year deal with a friendly cap number in year one. If that’s the case, the Patriots shouldn’t waste any time in moving on from Amendola. There’s no sense in having so much invested in two players with similar skill sets, particularly with younger options like Boyce and Moe as potential backups. If the Patriots can put the resources they currently have invested in Amendola toward bringing in an effective outside receiver to play opposite Aaron Dobson in 2014, the offense, and the team, will be far better off.