FOXBORO, Mass. — The debate raged on after the New England Patriots chose to sign Danny Amendola over Wes Welker in March: Who would have the better season?
It turns out, it didn’t matter. The answer was: C. None of the above.
Julian Edelman, the wide receiver who races out of the blowup Patriots helmet during pregame introductions, speeds 100 yards down the field and delivers an exclamatory flying punch in the opposite end zone in front of fans, outshined the two high-profile slot receivers. All three were free agents entering 2013. Amendola and Welker got $22 million guaranteed combined; Edelman got none.
Amendola received a five-year, $28.5 million contract with more money available through incentives. Welker was handed a two-year, $12 million deal, also with extra incentives. Edelman received a one-year, $715,000 contract that only climbed to $1.015 million because he hit every seemingly unattainable incentive.
Maybe Edelman was motivated by the lack of interest he received in free agency — though he’d never admit it if he was. Maybe he was motivated by the extra $250,000 he could earn by having a season that seemed out of the realm of possibility when he signed his deal in May, nearly two months after Amendola and Welker got theirs. Or maybe Edelman finally had luck on his side.
He was the only player left on the Patriots roster whom quarterback Tom Brady had any previous chemistry with, and for much of the season, he’s been the only healthy option on the field, which in itself is something Edelman is not used to. He’s usually the one bit by the injury bug.
But as Brady kept throwing passes to Edelman, the fifth-year pro kept catching them until he wound up with 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. After Week 11, it seemed that no Patriots receiver was going to gain 1,000 yards on the season. Then Edelman collected three 100-yard games and 556 yards in New England’s final six games.
Amendola was supposed to serve as proof that Welker was overrated for all those years, that he was just a product of a system that rewards short, shifty slot receivers. It turns out it was Edelman who partially accomplished that, though one could argue his job was even more difficult since he did half his production from outside, playing the “Z” receiver role.
In other circles, the Patriots were supposedly cooked when they let Welker walk. They couldn’t replace the dependable mainstay with the oft-injured Amendola. It turned out they didn’t need to.
Check out some key stats in the chart below.
Slot numbers via Pro Football Focus
Each player has his own strengths. Edelman catches everything thrown his way, Amendola had the best ability after the catch this season and Welker’s 2012 season was otherworldly. Amendola had more production per catch despite working out of the slot, Edelman did most of his work outside, and Welker — well, just look at those numbers in 2012 once again.
A concussion and groin injury seemed to limit Amendola’s growth in New England and chemistry with Brady. Amendola’s play also suffered as he valiantly gutted his way through a painful groin injury. But something also must be said for Edelman’s ability to stay healthy.
Going over the middle is not an easy duty. And to play all 16 games is an accomplishment — Welker did it in four of his six seasons with the Patriots. Obviously Edelman didn’t mimic Welker’s production from 2012 or 2011, but he certainly won this season if there’s a competition between the three friends.