Danny Amendola’s going back to the Lions.
That doesn’t really tip the NFL’s balance of power. But it is a tipoff.
Either Amendola and Tom Brady weren’t the free agent package deal they were reported to be or — and this is the more likely scenario — the sure thing was the smart thing for the 34-year-old wide receiver.
Amendola’s decision to return to Detroit raised some eyebrows in Foxboro where it was taken as a sign that players may not be able to wait on Brady’s free agent decision.
Does it matter to Brady whether or not he’s able to round up a collection of players he’s familiar and comfortable with? To some degree, it has to.
So much of the Patriots’ 2019 offensive struggles were related to the learning curve the majority of Brady’s receivers faced.
He did little to mask his frustration that the team marched into camp with N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington, Matt LaCosse, Dontrelle Inman and Braxton Berrios as the complements to Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett.
And it went about as Brady expected as the combination of inexperience, unfamiliarity and ineptitude left Brady flinging the ball into the cheerleaders at an alarming rate.
If Brady and the Patriots can’t reach an agreement before free agency, he’s lighting out for the territories. Which means unfamiliarity with personnel, scheme, city, coaching staff, owner, GM, scouting department, etc. wherever he goes.
It was easy to project Amendola as a comfortable wingman for Brady. Even at 34, he’s still incredibly reliable. In four of the past five seasons, he’s caught 65, 61, 59 and 62 passes. His outlier season was injury-marred 2016 and he atoned for the 23-catch regular season by ripping it up in the playoffs. He also delivered the Patriots to Super Bowl 52 with his fourth-quarter performance in the AFC Championship Game.
Amendola coming off the board underscores the fact that — wherever he goes — Brady’s starting fresh.
That may not faze him in the least. Especially if — during the recruiting process — he’s enthusiastically embraced and told he’ll be owner-operator of an offense rather than assistant manager.
In how many cities might that happen? Probably a few.
Take Nashville, for instance. Brady’s never thrown a pass to Adam Humphries, Jonnu Smith, A.J. Brown or Corey Davis. There will be a learning curve. But there will also be a better offensive line, a more potent running game (especially if the Titans retain Derrick Henry) and one would think 37-year-old offensive coordinator Arthur Smith can see his way clear to letting Brady have a big say.
It’s worth noting that, when the Patriots practiced with the Titans in August, Brady eviscerated their defense with Berrios and Meyers as his main targets that week. That probably left as much of an impression about what Brady is capable of as the Patriots playoff loss last month.
But moving on — even to a franchise that rolls out the reddest of carpets for him — means radical change. The easiest thing in the world for Brady to do would be to shrug his shoulders and come back to the Patriots.
Does he want to come back to a familiar situation where he’s been increasingly uncomfortable?
Or does he want to deal with the unfamiliarity and short-term discomfort because he believes it will feel differently in the end?