The minute Danny Amendola crumpled to the ground after receiving a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit, rumblings of the Patriots trading for a veteran wide receiver began again.
Amendola’s injury also had fans grumbling over the decision to sign the former Ram over Wes Welker for the umpteenth time this season. And that, of course, is completely unfair. Amendola’s injury is no more his fault than it is Bill Belichick‘s, Welker’s or mine (it’s not, so don’t blame me, Danny, Bill or Wes). Helmet-to-helmet hits happen every game and there’s no predisposed trigger in Amendola’s body that made him more liable to get a concussion on that play than any other player.
The Patriots were fortunate they kept seven receivers on the roster going into Sunday’s game. Knowing they had five healthy receivers on the roster, they easily could have cut Austin Collie prior to the game.
But they didn’t, and Collie became a savior on the final drive, catching two key passes. Now Collie may take an even bigger role in the Patriots’ offense if Amendola’s assumed concussion keeps him out for a week or more.
The presence of Collie and Julian Edelman allow the Patriots to forgo scouring the trade block to find Amendola’s replacement. With Josh Boyce also on the team, the Patriots have an overabundance of capable slot receivers. And while they all have health issues, having three on the roster should allow the Patriots to keep at least one healthy at all times.
The Patriots could probably find an upgrade over Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson via trade (Hakeem Nicks is reportedly available), but the question is, do they really want to? The rookies are improving every week, they know the offense and Tom Brady‘s trust in them appeared to be increasing by the minute against the Saints.
Josh McDaniels and Belichick finally showed the confidence in them to utilize the no-huddle offense on over half the snaps on Sunday. Brady was going to Dobson early and often and Thompkins pulled in the most important pass of the day.
It’s important, not only for the end of the season, but the future as well to develop the rookies. They won’t improve by getting second-team reps in practice and by sitting on the bench in games. And if they have finally grasped the offense after months of practice and preparation, what’s to say a new player can come in and soak it all in faster?
It appears New England found a special player in Collie, who could pick up the offense well enough to contribute in just a week and a half’s time. He did so by way of pure persistence, staying in Brady’s ear on and off the practice field.
Nicks or another veteran receiver could have the same kind of smarts and persistence as Collie, but that’s no guarantee. Collie was a free risk. An improvement over Dobson or Thompkins won’t come cheap.
If the Patriots can find the right deal for a player like Nicks, Josh Gordon or Emmanuel Sanders, fine. But they have to know there is some risk involved and that the rookies won’t keep evolving, gaining confidence or building chemistry with Brady by sitting on the bench.
It appears the Patriots finally found some winners in Dobson and Thompkins, it would be a terrible game of “what if” if that was destroyed by trading for a player who may or may not work or be an improvement.
There’s also the fact that Rob Gronkowski‘s return should be coming in the next few weeks. Once Gronkowski and Shane Vereen are back, the dependence on the rookies should diminish.