Danny Amendola is on the books to make $5 million in salary in 2016. That’s the 19th-highest salary among all the players at his position - $500K behind Jordy Nelson and $600K behind Emmanuel Sanders.
The presumption is that, before the league year begins on March 9 and that salary begins counting against the salary cap, the Patriots will talk to Amendola about whittling the number down.
Even though he’s coming off his most productive season of the three he’s been with the Patriots, even though his willingness to keep playing with pain was obvious, even though he can return punts, even though he’s finally got Tom Brady’s genuine trust, $5M is out of whack. As is the $6.8M cap hit.
Especially when Julian Edelman – a better player than Amendola – is down to make precisely half as much in salary ($2.5M as Amendola will this year). Add in the fact that Edelman and Brandon LaFell combined will make $4.9M to Amendola’s $5M, what other conclusion can one draw?
How about this one: Is it worth it to force a pay cut on Amendola if the team is going to lose him?
I understand we’re not talking about a 25-year-old player who’s going to catch 100 balls. He’s 30. He takes a lot of hits. His style of play is not geared to self-preservation. Even when he’s full-go, he is better suited as a complementary, six-target-per-game player not the first option. Amendola will be on the down escalator career-wise fairly soon.
But it’s taken three years for Amendola to pay dividends the Patriots hoped he would when they signed him to a five-year, $28M deal in 2013 to replace Wes Welker. The 2013 season was injury-marred. In 2014, he only caught 27 passes despite playing in 16 games. But from the beginning of the 2014 playoffs to the end of this year’s postseason run – 20 games – Amendola caught 83 balls for 842 yards and six touchdowns. He led the NFL in 2014 in punt return average (12).
What’s the huge upside of going to him – after he took a nearly $2M pay cut in 2015 – and squeezing him for another $2M to trim his cap hit when A) the cap has gone up about $10M over the 2015 level, B) the Patriots are still one of the lowest teams in the league when it comes to wide receiver spending?
Currently, New England is on the books to have $18.946M of the cap taken up by Amendola, Edelman, LaFell, Keshawn Martin and Aaron Dobson
That’s the 15th highest total in the league.
Meanwhile, they have the best quarterback in the league on a cut-rate deal and their cap hit for that position is $15.95M – 19th in the league.
Two simple counter-arguments arise with this. First, there’s no justifying Amendola making more than Edelman. Second, if the Patriots are going to overspend at the spot, shouldn’t they do it on a younger, bigger more durable player.
The answer to those? First, it’s not Amendola’s problem that Edelman’s deal isn’t more lucrative. It is – or should be – the Patriots problem to make him whole, as it were.
Second, if the Patriots could be trusted to unearth and sign a wide receiver who could spend the spring, summer, training camp and preseason assimilating into the offense and then be counted on for 60 catches, 600 yards, versatility, toughness, special teams contributions and a general understanding of the way the team does things, that would make sense.
But the Patriots haven’t been shown the ability to do that consistently. They hit on Brandon Lloyd and Brandon LaFell but Lloyd washed out after a season and LaFell is in an iffy position himself entering 2016.
Maybe the Patriots decide independently they are going to leave Amendola’s deal alone. Maybe Amendola will have no issue with the team if it does approach him or his agent about a reduction.
In Mike Reiss’ excellent interview with Amendola last November, the receiver said, “I'm my own business, and I'm competing with everyone else on the team and competing with the organization for me to get paid," he said. "At the same time, I'm a good teammate. I want to be there for my teammates. I want to be part of something great. ... When it came down to it, it was also about playing good football. I've been on a 1-15 team. I've been on teams that never made it to the playoffs. It wasn't fun playing meaningless football. When you're playing meaningful football at the end of the season, and every play and every route that you run counts, every ball you catch counts, and it's either win or go home, what I found in the sense of coming here is that's the most rewarding thing. … I understand it's a business. Money wasn't really something I was counting in that situation. ... I feel like I want to be part of something good. I want to play good football, and my family is here. Those were really the three things that helped me with the decision."
But that was in reference to last March when he was coming off a 27-catch season. This year, Amendola’s coming off a season when he was the offense some weeks.
If Amendola doesn’t want to redo his deal the question the Patriots will need to answer is whether moving on from Amendola and hitting the reset button in 2016 will wind up being worth the money they’ll potentially save.