Five years ago, Danny Amendola was in a much different place in the landscape of the NFL.
He was an undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech, fresh off a 109-catch, 1,245-yard season with the Red Raiders. But lack of size (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) and speed (4.68-second 40-yard dash at the combine) kept him from being taken among the 252 picks in the 2008 NFL draft.
Amendola was scooped up by the Cowboys as a free agent and came about as close as one can to making the 53-man roster without it actually happening. How do we know this? He was heavily featured on the Cowboys season of Hard Knocks that year.
The Dallas organization knew what they had in the slot receiver. And so did Amendola’s teammate at the time, Terrell Owens, who made it known that he wanted the shifty slot man on the roster.
Some mental errors and a stacked wide receiver corps kept Amendola from making the squad, but he spent the entire season on the team’s practice squad. He went through the process again with the Eagles in 2009 and came up short (
no pun intended pun completely intended) again, getting released as part of the team’s final cuts.
Amendola’s big break finally came later that year when he was signed off the Eagles’ practice squad by the Rams. He went on to catch 43 passes that year for 326 yards and one touchdown. He improved in 2010 before missing all but one game in 2011.
Despite only playing 11 games, 2012 was his true breakout year. Games like his performance in Week 2 against the Redskins, when he caught 15 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown, and Week 10 against the 49ers, when he caught 11 passes for 102 yards, were what earned him a five-year, $28.5 million contract from the Patriots this offseason.
Amendola finally became a free agent at the perfect time to earn the new contract. And not to make this an overly cliche column about how hard work pays off for scrappy little players, but the slot receiver’s journey shows how many different routes an NFL career can take, especially in light of the Aaron Hernandez situation.
Hernandez was only mildly punished for his off-field antics at Florida by being drafted in the fourth round rather than the first or second, where his skill set said he should have been selected. It took just two years in the league for Hernandez to get a big contract — seven years, $40 million to be exact.
But Hernandez squandered his opportunity like so many athletes have done before him, while Amendola eventually made the most of his. A Cowboys Hard Knocks marathon this weekend is what reminded me of Amendola’s football journey. Knowing that the same player who fumbled a punt in his first NFL preseason game is now the key to the Patriots’ offense in 2013 was fun to watch. You can’t help but think, “Keep at it kid, it will all work out,” as Amendola tried to explain what happened to his special teams coach after the play.
But seeing Amendola speak nervously in a slightly squeaky voice to HBO cameras just shows how far he’s come in five years. Just three weeks ago, Amendola spoke confidently to the swarm of New England media surrounding him on the day after the Tim Tebow circus came to town.
It’s certainly not the first time an undrafted free agent has gone on to earn big money as a slot receiver (as anyone will tell you, Amendola’s journey is shockingly similar to Wes Welker‘s), but watching him with Tom Brady this season will be a nice story to take the mind of Hernandez’s saga.
And if you want to see a fresh-faced Amendola trying to make his way in the NFL as an undrafted rookie, you can always watch the clip below from 2008.
Photo via Facebook/New England Patriots from B/R