FOXBOROUGH — It’s interesting how one season’s intriguing story line can be the next season’s afterthought.
In the case of Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, dropping down the list of team talking points isn’t a bad thing. Catching less attention and more passes this season would be a welcome development.
As the Patriots’ most high-profile offseason acquisition in 2013 and hand-picked Wes Welker replacement, Amendola had the intense gaze of Patriots fans and media burning down on him like the summer sun last training camp. After a disappointing first season, Amendola has flown under the radar during this one.
There are other shiny new toys to get excited about, such as Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, who have imbued the defense with a newfound swagger.
Amendola is out of the spotlight, but he is still on the spot. He is the highest-paid receiver on a team that has significant questions about its receiving corps. If the Patriots are going to provide quarterback Tom Brady with a better arsenal of pass receiving options than last season, Amendola’s comfort level and production have to go up in year two or the team could send him on a go route after it.
“I feel comfortable,” Amendola said. “It’s different. A year under your belt in a new system, in a new place, in a new organization, it’s kind of like when a rookie comes in for the first time and tries to learn the offense. It might be difficult at times, but that second year that learning curve is much less. I feel very comfortable right now. I’m just trying to come out here and work.”
The Patriots are hoping Amendola catches on faster this year.
His debut season with the Patriots was framed by a serious groin injury and an inability to get into Brady’s circle of trust. The fast-talking, quick-footed Texan hurt his groin in the preseason and then tore it completely in the season-opener against Buffalo, soldiering on to catch 10 passes for 104 yards in that game.
The rest of his season was up and down, ending on a nadir in Denver, where he had zero catches and was targeted just once in the AFC title game loss to the Broncos.
There are folks working for the CIA who could only wish to be that invisible.
There was offseason chatter that the Patriots might cut Amendola. But it didn’t make much sense financially.
Amendola is in the second season of a five-year deal that could be worth up to $31 million, including incentives. His salary cap number for this season is $4.575 million. It would have cost the Patriots $6.8 million to cut him.
Besides the financial repercussions, it would have been an embarrassing admission of misjudgment for the Patriots, after they essentially chose Amendola over Welker.
The $10 million guarantee in the first two years of Amendola’s contract equals the two-year, $10 million offer the Patriots made to Welker before he ended up in Denver. That offer to Welker included incentives that could have pushed the value to $16 million.
The verdict is still out on the Patriots’ decision to move on from Welker, the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, single-season record holder for receiving yards, and Brady’s BFF, and replace him with Amendola, who in five NFL seasons has never topped 700 yards receiving and has played 16 games once.
Welker had concussion issues in Denver last season, but he also had 10 touchdown catches, one more than Amendola has in his career.
Amendola, who had 54 catches for 633 yards last season, both the second-highest totals on the team, has tuned out any criticism.
“I don’t listen to it, honestly,” he said. “I hear it, but I don’t listen to it. I can only control what I can control. I’m not worried about too much else, so most importantly I feel good right now. I’m looking forward to the season.”
Amendola is easy to root for, affable, and polite. However, you wonder if he fully grasped the situation he was putting himself in following Welker. He probably thought he did, since he succeeded Welker in college at Texas Tech.
But Brady and Welker had a passing-game ESP that’s difficult to duplicate in the precision Patriots’ offense. The receiver Brady seems to have that type of bond with now is Julian Edelman, who is good friends with Amendola.
In 2013, Edelman led the team in catches (105) and receiving yards (1,056) — numbers expected of Amendola — after training with Brady’s fitness guru Alex Guerrero. More importantly, Edelman played all 16 games for the first time.
Amendola worked with Guerrero, whom Brady called his “body coach” in a 2013 Men’s Health article, this offseason.
“It’s not necessarily when you get injured you go see somebody,” Amendola said. “It’s preventative, and it’s pre-hab. It’s trying to prevent stuff, which is key when you get older and play at this level.”
The two greatest challenges for Amendola this season are staying healthy and getting Brady’s all-important imprimatur.
Not having TB12’s trust is the kiss of death for wide receivers in Foxborough.
Brady was asked about Amendola on Thursday and was positive, although he didn’t speak in the glowing tones he had used for Kenbrell Thompkins on the first day of camp.
“I think everybody — Danny and all of the guys who are coming in here after their first year with our team — it’s a different offense [for them],” said Brady. “We do quite a few things. We move guys around a lot. There are a lot of post-snap reads, a lot of pre-snap reads. There is a lot of non-verbal communication that goes on.
“So we’re still working at it, and he’s been out here every day working his butt off, too. That’s been great to see.”
Amendola is putting in the work, whether he works out remains to be seen.