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Monday, 07 August 2017 21:02

In Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola Knows A Great WR Group When He Sees It

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FOXBORO -- When Brandin Cooks elevated in the back of the end zone Monday to reach up with his right hand and palm a Tom Brady pass for a touchdown, Danny Amendola knew why he cut a deal to return to Foxboro in 2017.

The 31-year-old veteran wide receiver could've left in March after collecting his second Super Bowl ring in three seasons. He could've told the Patriots he wasn't interested in renegotiating his two-year, $8.1 million deal of March 2016. That would've likely meant the team would've parted ways with him with a year left on his deal.

But instead, Amendola decided to cut a deal. He accepted a greatly restructured $1.7 million deal, saving the Patriots $4.75 million in cap space and all but guaranteeing his spot on the 2017 53-man roster.

He could've made multiple millions more playing for another team by saying no to the Patriots this past April. Heck, he could've even stepped away from the NFL altogether and pursued something else.

There are a multitude of reasons Amendola decided to stay put another season in New England. But there are at least three things to consider. Amendola absolutely loves playing football. He can't imagine playing anywhere else in the NFL. And he might be playing with the best and most diverse group of receivers in the league.

"I love playing for this city and I love playing for this team," Amendola said over the weekend. "I love the atmosphere Coach (Bill Belichick) brings when we walk into the building every day. I want to play good football and I feel like this the place where I'll be able to challenge myself and play the best football I can. Ultimately, that's why I'm here." 

There is a lesson here for those on the Patriots not named Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Dont'a Hightower or Devin McCourty. If you want to want to play in New England for - hands down - the best franchise in the NFL and one of the best in the world, there is a price to pay.

There's something else to consider that is critical in Amendola's thinking and that of the Patriots' brass. The quality depth at wide receiver is arguably the best in the league, with the Giants and Bengals potentially making a case. When Amendola walks into the position meetings, he sees old friends Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, second-year Patriots in Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell and superstar-in-the-making in Brandin Cooks, who had a Randy Moss-esque moment on Monday against the Jaguars in the first joint practice at Gillette Stadium.

"There's no question I've seen a lot of guys come in and out of the room but we have a lot of work to do, man," Amendola told me. "We've been putting some good work in OTAs, good work into the start of this camp. We've got a new team coming into town and we're excited to ramp up and hit somebody else for a change. (We want to) see where we stack up, where we need to improve, get some film and just get better. We definitely have some guys in the room that have good experience in the league. We're trying to mold and just get better every day."

 

Amendola is already entering his fifth season in New England. He's coming off a season in which he caught four touchdowns, the most he's had with the Patriots, in just 23 catches, the fewest he's had since his injury-shortened season of 2011. But remember, Amendola is the hands guy that, along with Edelman, helped replace the struggling Cyrus Jones on punt returns.

The Patriots know exactly what they have in Amendola. They have a dedicated receiver in top physical condition, committed to overcoming his high ankle sprain against the Rams late in the season. He was so committed that he came back and was a pivotal part of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Everyone remembers Edelman's catch millimeters off the Reliant Stadium turf in the fourth quarter. What many may not recall is that Amendola had eight catches for 78 yards. He scored the Patriots' first touchdown of the fourth quarter to narrow what had been a 25-point Falcons lead down to 28–18. He converted the final two-point conversion with less than a minute to go to tie the game at 28–28 and send it to OT.

All of that capped a season when he came back from knee and ankle surgeries following the 2015 season. He didn't get the chance to compete in training camp last year as the team took it slow. This year, despite some veteran rest management by the team early on, Amendola is taking part in camp, returning on Saturday to full pads practice.

This isn't the first time Amendola saved his best for the postseason and Super Bowl.

In 2014, against the Ravens in the divisional round, he caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns, including the 51-yard score thrown by fellow wide receiver Edelman on a screen pass. In the Super Bowl, Amendola recorded caught five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in a 28–24 victory against Seattle.

Now, it's back to the drawing board again for a new season.

"It's training camp," Amendola said. "We don't have two-a-days anymore but we do have long padded practices, just like it is in a game. We're trying to acclimated to that and get ready for the season. The main deal is to just be ready for the first game of the year and have my body ready to go. That was just the idea. The plan was never set in stone. But having the ability to adapt and come out here and get work every day and get better every day is the goal."

Amendola has adapted and survived in New England. He's seen the likes of Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper and Michael Floyd come and go. He's managed to keep a place on a roster where it seemed just two years ago there was no certainty that he'd have a spot coming out of camp.

"There's a lot of guys that have come in and out for one reason or another," Amendola added. "But we really try to focus on the guys that are in the house, in the room now. We're working every day, communicating every day. We're excited about the season to open up. We've got a lot of work to do to get there.

"I love football. Anytime, if it's OTAs, offseason I'm throwing in the backyard or in training camp, whatever it is. I love being out there. Whenever I can get out there, it's a good day."