While Welker can break man coverage in the slot better than anyone, Amendola is close to Welker in that regard but much better after the catch in terms of making players miss.
Yes, Welker led the league in yards after the catch again, but Amendola (and Julian Edelman, if he’s re-signed) can be better. Welker gets what’s blocked on screen plays — and few follow and set up blockers better — but Amendola can make more people miss. That’s what the Patriots want on the outside at their Z, second receiver position.
The other part of the Patriots’ offense evolving is finding an explosive boundary receiver with similar traits to (but obviously less skill than) Randy Moss. I don’t see many of those types available in free agency, but maybe the Patriots can pull a trade of their hat. The Cardinals will not deal Larry Fitzgerald, a league source said, despite their apparent rebuilding project.
But the draft has great depth. I know the Patriots haven’t found anyone at receiver since 2002, but I’m willing to bet they have spent the offseason exhaustively researching the available receivers. If they do half as well with receivers as they did with tight ends in the 2010 draft, they’d be thrilled.
They have to find a receiver in a draft. It’s a must. DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Keenan Allen (Cal), Terrance Williams (Baylor), and Markus Wheaton (Oregon State) are first-round candidates.
So by taking Welker out, and bringing in receivers that are better on the edge — of both the boundary and short-area variety — the Patriots think that gives them the best chance to take the offense to the next level.
Obviously it’s a risky move. Probably the most danger lurks in injuries — and not just on offense. Not only has Amendola missed 20 games the past two seasons, but Hernandez, Gronkowski, and Edelman have had trouble staying on the field. And if the Patriots re-sign the oft-injured Aqib Talib at cornerback, you’re talking about five fairly key players who have alarming injury histories.
The argument is there to be made that if the Patriots just maintained the status quo on offense, found a legitimate deep threat, and improved more on defense, then that was the path to another Super Bowl title. That road is certainly less painful and has more known quantities.
But the Patriots feel moving on from Welker will make them better in the biggest games, and I agree with the plan (though I would have handled the end with Welker differently; just say good luck and goodbye).
Now we’ll see if paper meets reality.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.