Welker, replaced? Danny Amendola agrees to five-year contract with New England Patriots

Well, that didn't take long. Just a couple hours after it was announced that Wes Welker took his talents to Denver, the New England Patriots signed former St. Louis Rams slot receiver Danny Amendola to a five-year, $31 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. The deal was first reported by NFL.com's Albert Breer.

On its face, it looks like a straight-up replacement for New England's longtime slot star, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos after the Patriots refused to match it. Both Welker and Amendola went to Texas Tech and thrived in Mike Leach's quick-strike offense. Both players are slightly undersized, with the ability to get open in routes underneath zones, both players were undrafted, and both players have a history of being highly effective return men.

However, the Amendola signing does come with some risk -- due to various injuries, he's played in just 12 games in the last two seasons and started just nine games. He missed all but one game in 2011 after suffering a dislocated elbow in the first game of the season, and he missed more time in 2012 after he dislocated his clavicle -- an injury that could have been life-threatening.

"Obviously, losing Danny is big," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said after that Oct. 4 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. "Everyone knows that he's a big part of our offense. A lot of what we do runs through him."

To that point in the season, Amendola was one of the NFL's most productive players. He ranked second in the NFL in catches with 31, and eighth in the league with 351 receiving yards. He had just one catch in the Cardinals game before the injury, but it was a 44-yard play in which he got past cornerback Patrick Peterson for a long gain. He returned to the roster on Nov. 11, catching 11 passes for 102 yards in a 24-24 tie with the San Francisco 49ers. He finished the 2012 season with 63 receptions, 666 yards, and two touchdowns.

In 42 NFL games and 17 starts, Amendola has 196 catches for 1,726 yards and 17 touchdowns. Signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2008 (you can see him in Dallas' "Hard Knocks" series that year), Amendola spent that season on Dallas' practice squad, moved to the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad in Jan., 2009, and was waived by the Eagles during final cuts in September. The Rams picked him up from there. Earlier in his career, he was a real return threat, leading the NFL in his rookie year with 66 kick returns for 1,618 yards. In 2010, he led the NFL with 2,364 all-purpose yards, most of which came on kick returns.

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