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Free agent snapshot: Wide receiver Danny Amendola

We’€™ve already touched on the possibility of Ed Reed [1] as a potential Patriot here [2], but when free agency begins, there are a handful of less-heralded players who could appeal to New England as well. Over the next week, we’€™ll look at five relatively under-the-radar possibilities for the Patriots to consider when free agency opens early next month. Again, we have to stress that these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. On Monday, we looked at Desmond Bryant [3]. Tuesday, it was Mike DeVito [4]. Today, it’€™s Danny Amendola [5]:

Position: Wide receiver
Age: 27 (will turn 28 on Nov. 2)
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 186 pounds

The skinny: Wes Welker [6] must look at Danny Amendola and shake his head. A younger — and likelier cheaper — version of me? Son of a … The comparisons between the two are really something: both went to Texas Tech, both were undrafted free agents who saw two teams give up on them before they achieves success in the NFL, and both made their bones as special teamers before becoming big-time targets in the slot. And now, with Amendola set to hit free agency and the Patriots (possibly) thinking about life after Welker, the stage could be set for New England to welcome a new generation of slot receiver to Foxboro. As a member of the Rams, Amendola had 63 catches in 11 games in 2012 and a career-high 85 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.

By the numbers: Over the last three seasons, Amendola has caught 153 passes on 230 targets for a catch rate of 67 percent. By way of comparison, over the last three years, Welker has 326 catches on 469 targets — a rate of 70 percent.

Why it would work: If you look at the pre-Patriots stretch of Welker’€™s career, he didn’€™t turn into the receiver that is until the age of 25 when he caught 67 passes for 687 yards for a Dolphins’€™ team that finished 6-10. He then took that to the next level when he joined the Patriots — at the age of 26, he caught 112 passes. (For comparisons sake, Amendola had his breakout year with the Rams at the age of 25 when he caught 85 passes for 689 yards. That team ended the year 7-9.) If there’€™s one guy out there who appears poised to continue on the same sort of career path, it’€™s Amendola, particularly if the Patriots decide to move on from Welker this offseason.

Why it might not work: There’€™s the very real possibility that the Rams decide to hit Amendola with the franchise tag, although recent reports indicate that both sides are looking for a long-term deal. Two other big things: one big area where Amendola certainly doesn’€™t follow Welker’€™s lead is durability. (Google ‘€œDanny Amendola’€ and ‘€œinjury’€ and you get back 169,000 results.) Amendola has played in 12 games the last two season because of a variety of injuries, including heel, foot and clavicle problems. We don’€™t mention this because we’€™re necessarily questioning Amendola’€™s toughness. It’€™s just that when compared to Welker’€™s durability (he’€™s played in all 32 regular-season games over the last two seasons), it comes up short. And two, Brady and Welker possess an almost creepy ability when it comes to knowing what the other one wants, a knowledge that has been built up over the last seven years with thousands of passes between the two — and not just during games or practices. (They go on vacation together, for goodness sakes.) That level of comfort and ease isn’€™t easily replicated, and it would be on the quarterback and the receiver to make that new relationship work.

Quote: ‘€œHe does things for our offense. He creates opportunities for other people.’€ — Rams coach Jeff Fisher on Amendola [7]

Our take: It’€™s complicated. The similarities between Amendola and Welker are really quite something, but it’€™s important to know that if/when Amendola arrives in New England, you won’€™t necessarily get an instant 90-catch guy. While Amendola would have some previous working knowledge of the system based on his time with Josh McDaniels [8] in St. Louis, it takes time to learn the scheme, and in addition, build that level of trust and confidence between the quarterback and receiver. (For what it’€™s worth, I would love to know Brady’€™s impact on the Welker contract negotiation — any quarterback in his mid-30s couldn’€™t be too enthused about possibly losing his most trusted and valuable target, as well as a good friend. I know Brady’€™s eyes are wide open, especially after losing pals like Lawyer Milloy and Deion Branch [9] over the course of his career, but this is something else.)

The Patriots receiving corps is in a massive state of flux this offseason, and if they do decide it’€™s time to move on from Welker, Amendola would certainly offer a worthy facsimile. (That is, if they recuse themselves from the Percy Harvin Sweepstakes.) There’€™s no law saying you can’€™t have two slot receivers on the same team — if anyone can do it, it’€™s the Patriots. After all, they’€™ve managed to utilize two elite-level tight ends the last three seasons. But the addition of Amendola would mean Welker’€™s days in New England were numbered. In the end, if he’€™s available and you think Welker is done, then you have to have to make the move. While an Amendola-for-Welker switch would be consistent with the Patriots’€™ long-term vision for success (namely, cutting ties with a guy a year too early as opposed to a year too late), it would create short-term questions regarding the passing game that would have to be addressed, namely a belief that younger targets like Amendola, Julian Edelman [10] (if he returns), Rob Gronkowski [11] and Aaron Hernandez [12] can steer clear of injury and stay on the field on a consistent basis.