Julian Edelman

Keeping Amendola may have been the Patriots most important offseason move

Keeping Amendola may have been the Patriots most important offseason move

FOXBORO - Is it possible that in an offseason of wheeling and dealing, the most important move the Patriots made was to keep a guy who's been on the roster since 2013? 

Potentially. That's how critical Danny Amendola has been to making the Patriots one of the most potent offenses in football. 

MORE: 

Despite missing Week 2 with a concussion, Amendola is on pace for one of the best seasons of his career with 23 receptions on 27 targets for 267 yards and a touchdown in four games. He's already tied his receptions mark from 2016, and if he stays healthy he's tracking toward an 86-catch, 1,000-yard season - both would be career-highs. 

The key for Amendola is always his health -- he played in 12 games last season and he missed two in 2015 -- but with Julian Edelman out, he's become a key part of the offense. 

If he plays 15 games, and if Tom Brady looks his way at the current rate, he'd hit 100 targets for just the third time in his career. According to STATS, he's tied for second among receivers in third-down conversions (7) behind only San Diego's Keenan Allen.

Against Tampa Bay, Amendola turned in one of his best performances of the young season, catching all eight of his official targets for 77 yards. He had three more catches that were wiped out due to penalties -- one of those was his own offensive pass-interference call, but on the next play he caught one for 14 yards and a first down. It was one of five first-downs he converted in the game.

Amendola also returned three punts for 51 yards, and his 40-yard return may have gone for more had he not been run into by teammate Brandon Bolden.

"I thought Danny gave us a lot of critical plays in the game," Bill Belichick said on Friday. "He gave us punt returns, some catches and he blocked well. He had a couple of key blocks in the running game, as well, so I thought he really did a solid job for us in all the areas, in all of the things that he was asked to do, which he usually does. He's one of our best and most dependable players."

It's hard to believe that in the offseason, as the Patriots started to build up their roster, there were some who wondered if the team might actually part ways with Amendola, 31. 

The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder was never going to remain on the books at his originally-schedule base salary of $6 million, so a reduction, or a release, was inevitable. To stick with a winning organization, in a system he knows, in an area where he has family, Amendola agreed to his third reduction in salary in as many seasons. 

But even after that financial nod, there were some who wondered if he'd be kept on to play behind Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and possibly Malcolm Mitchell. 

After injuries to Edelman and Mitchell have led to an increased role for the 31-year-old, that restructure now looks like one of the wisest moves the Patriots made all offseason. 

The Brandin Cooks trade is right up there. He has come as advertised, helping the Patriots win a thriller last Sunday against the Texans with 131 yards receiving and two scores. He's played almost 90 percent of the offensive snaps. And despite a bad drop over the middle against the Bucs on Thursday night, he led the team with 85 yards receiving on five catches. 

After that? Stephon Gilmore? Dwayne Allen? Mike Gillislee? Rex Burkhead? David Harris? Lawrence Guy? Kony Ealy...? 

There's not a single offseason move that's helped the Patriots more than keeping Amendola.

"The guy, he’s a great football player and he does a lot of things well," Josh McDaniels said Friday. "He’s tough, he always makes an impact when he’s in there, he blocks hard, he gets open in the passing game, he catches the ball, he’s hard to tackle, he returns punts, makes big plays in the kicking game, he’s a great teammate. 

"There’s nothing I don’t love about Danny Amendola. Every time he’s out there, you feel good about what may happen if the ball is headed towards him, and he always comes up big in the biggest moments or biggest games. Danny’s having a very good beginning to the season, and we want to continue to try to do that."
 

Brady once again turns to Amendola in gotta-have-it situation

Brady once again turns to Amendola in gotta-have-it situation

FOXBORO -- Danny Amendola hasn't usually been a fill-the-stat-sheet kind of player since he joined the Patriots. But in the most critical spots, he's among the most trustworthy receivers Tom Brady has ever played with. 

Amendola and Brady served up more proof of their uncanny connection late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Panthers, 33-30. Brady found Amendola on the back end line to convert a fourth-and-goal opportunity, effectively tying the game with 3:09 remaining. Amendola had three catches on the game-tying drive -- including a five-yard grab on a third-and-three play -- and he finished the afternoon with six catches for 42 yards in a losing effort.

Last week it was a 25-yard catch on a third-and-18 play during New England's game-winning drive against the Texans that served as the reminder of Amendola's late-game reliability. He had three catches for a total of 48 yards in the win.  

PANTHERS 33, PATRIOTS 30

The stats don't really the whole story when it comes to Amendola's role. And that's often been the case with him. In 2014, he finished the regular season with 27 catches. In 2016, he had 23 receptions. Both years, he finished the season as one of the team's most productive players in the Super Bowl, reeling in a combined 13 catches for 126 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in those games.

"Yeah, I have a ton of confidence in him," Brady said on Sunday. "You know, I always have. It’s just, it always keeps growing. I mean, we’ve played together for a long time, and he’s such a clutch player. He made a great catch there at the end, really got a lot of separation from the safety and that was a play we needed at the time. He played great all day."

How the Patriots use Amendola moving forward will bear watching. He's played 99 snaps in three games -- he missed Week 2 with a concussion -- and with Julian Edelman out, Brady seems to be relying on Amendola more than usual. He has seen 19 targets already this season, whereas last year he had 29 total in 12 games. With 15 grabs, Amendola's on pace to more than double last year's receptions number. 

Would the Patriots ideally like to manage Amendola to have him healthy for the stretch run, as they did in 2014 and 2016? Without Edelman, they may not be able to afford to. 

As of now, Amendola's a key part of an offense that has its quarterback on pace to throw for more than 5,000 yards

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Danny Amendola embraces delayed follow-up to strong Week 1 performance

patriots-amendola-112016.jpg

Danny Amendola embraces delayed follow-up to strong Week 1 performance

This actually won’t be the first time that Danny Amendola had to wait to follow up a strong season-opener with the Pats. 

As the veteran receiver aims to return Sunday from a concussion and knee injury after leaving the Pats’ Week 1 loss early and missing Week 2 altogether, he’ll try to build a Week 1 performance that saw him lead the Pats with 100 yards on six receptions. 

The stop and start is somewhat reminiscent of Amendola’s first year with New England in 2013, when he had 10 receptions for 104 yards in the season-opener. He suffered a groin injury in that game, however, and didn’t play again until Week 5. At least the wait is shorter this time around. 

MORE: 

“I mean, there’s going to be bumps and bruises along the way, but that’s football, right?” Amendola said Friday. “But I feel really good today, feel strong, so get ready tomorrow and just continue to prepare.”

In that first game back in 2013, Amendola again led the Pats in receiving yards, but it was in a terrible offensive showing for New England. All it took was four receptions for 55 yards to be the Patriots’ best receiver in a 13-6 loss to Cincinnati in which Tom Brady had a rare scoreless game. 

If Amendola can pick up where he left off in Week 1, the Pats will be in good shape. They’re also expected to have Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan ready to go, but Amendola was Tom Brady’s most reliable weapon in the Chiefs game, even though Brandin Cooks made a bigger impact with two pass interference penalties drawn in the red zone. 

Not known for his durability towards the end of his time in St. Louis, this will be the fourth of Amendola’s five regular seasons in New England in which he didn’t play in all 16 games. He played the full season in 2014, 14 games in 2015 and 12 games in 2013 and 2016. 

With Julian Edelman out, Brady could certainly use Amendola’s services as often as possible. That’s especially if he plays the way he did in Week 1. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE