Despite his gaudy statistics, when Welker's contract was up the Patriots stuck to the same shrewd business tactics that have helped make them the NFL's winningest franchise since the turn of the century. New England refused to offer Welker any more money than they thought he was worth, and he chose to sign with the Denver Broncos instead.
In an effort to replace Welker, the Patriots brought in former St. Louis Ram Danny Amendola. While the two are similar players, Amendola's numbers were hardly comparable to Welker's.
In four years with the Rams Amendola averaged 49 catches for 431.5 yards per season. A large reason for this was his inability to stay on the field, as Amendola missed 22 games due to injury in that span. By comparison, Welker had sat out a total of just three regular season contests in his time with New England.
For Patriots fans, the idea of losing Welker in favor of Amendola was fairly hard to swallow. The most optimistic view had by many was that Amendola could be a younger (Welker is 32, Amendola is 28) poor man's version of Welker. On the other hand, the nightmare scenario was that Welker might be his usual dynamic self alongside Peyton Manning, while Amendola would primarily be watching from the sidelines.
Now that New England and Denver are set to square off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, it's a perfect time to compare the two players 2013 receiving numbers:
Danny Amendola: 12 games, 54 catches, 633 yards, 52.8 yards per game, 2 touchdowns
Wes Welker: 13 games, 73 catches, 778 yards, 59.8 yards per game, 10 touchdowns
In terms of health, Amendola turned out to be almost as durable as Welker, playing in just one fewer game. But the rest of Amendola's stats pale in comparison across the board, and are a far cry from Welker's average numbers as a Patriot. Based on this, it would appear New England clearly made the wrong decision.
Except for one thing -- as it turned out, it wasn't Amendola who replaced Welker, but Julian Edelman instead.
In four previous seasons with the Patriots the little used Edelman had made a total of just 69 catches. But he always showed promise when given the opportunity, and with Welker now gone (as well as tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) Edelman jumped on the chance to become Brady's primary option in the New England offense. His 2013 receiving numbers are as follows:
Julian Edelman: 16 games, 105 catches, 1,056 yards, 66 yards per game, 6 touchdowns
Edelman's stats are significantly better than Welker's this year, and compare favorably with Welker's previous level of production for the Patriots as well. Edelman also suited up for all 16 games, three more than Welker. Even if you project Welker's 2013 numbers over a full season (to 90 catches and 957 yards) they still fall short of Edelman's. By this count it appears New England made the right decision in refusing to overpay for Welker's services.
Here's how each of the three receivers stacked up in week one of the playoffs:
Welker: 6 catches, 38 yards, 1 touchdown
Amendola: 3 catches, 77 yards
Edelman: 6 catches, 84 yards
Again, it's hard not to like what you see from Edelman.
Obviously what happens in this Sunday's AFC Championship Game will go a long way towards answering the question of whether or not the Patriots made a mistake by not hanging on to Wes Welker. But based on this season's numbers, it looks as if Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were quite capable of using Julian Edelman as a worthy alternative.
Mark Vandeusen is the owner and creator of LucidSportsFan.com, for which he writes daily about the Boston sports scene and other topics of interest. He also contributes to Next Impulse Sports, CLNS Radio, and Celtics Life.
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