Wednesday March 13th, 2013

Danny Amendola Patriots Danny Amendola will try to replace Wes Welker as Tom Brady's go-to weapon. (G. Newman Lowrance/AP)

The New England Patriots did not want to match the two-year, $12 million contract Wes Welker received from Denver. Instead, they opted to open the checkbook for a reported five-year, $31 million deal ($10 million guaranteed) for Danny Amendola.

Amendola will be Welker's replacement in the slot in New England's offense -- a tall task, given that Welker made more catches than any other receiver over the past six seasons. The 27-year-old Amendola made a career-high 85 receptions in 2010 (though for just 689 yards) and had 63 grabs last season.

The biggest knock on Amendola is that he's been unable to stay healthy. He missed all but one game two years ago and sat out five in 2012.

No matter how you slice it, though, this is a really interesting signing for the Patriots, given how Amendola's price per year lines up pretty much with what Welker will make. The Patriots seemed to be trending toward a Welker-less universe early in 2012 -- their hesitancy to give Welker the long-term contract that he wanted hinted that this day might be coming.

New England also reportedly reached out to Amendola fairly aggressively during the NFL's three-day "legal tampering" window leading up to Tuesday. They were prepared to let Welker go, and Amendola was the No. 1 fallback option.

Amendola also has served as a kick and punt returner in the past, with great success. He actually led the league in kick-return yardage during his rookie season of 2008. Whether or not the Patriots will take the chance at letting Amendola take on those roles, as Welker often did, remains to be seen.

If this works out as the Patriots clearly believe it will, Amendola could be the NFL's next big star. He plays aggressively and confidently out of the slot, and he can be more of a home-run threat than Welker.

It's a new day in New England. Will the Patriots look back on this hectic swap as a stroke of genius or a massive mistake? Grade: B. What a gamble this is for the Patriots. It looks like they could have easily kept Welker, had they wanted to, but opted for Amendola instead. He's a high-ceiling guy who needs to prove he's ready for this role.

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