New Patriots receiver Danny Amendola is used to following in Wes Welker’s footsteps.
Welker was a sophomore at Texas Tech when Amendola committed to the Red Raiders, and now the St. Louis Rams free agent will have to replace one of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catchers in New England.
“I’ve been hearing (the comparisons) for a long time,” Amendola said in a conference call with New England reporters on Friday. “We went to the same college and I’ve been watching him play for a long time. He’s a great player, he’s been to a lot of Pro Bowls and he’s done a lot of great things to help the Patriots win. One of my main goals is to fulfill my role and try to do what I can to help the Patriots win as well.”
Also Friday, the Patriots signed former Buffalo Bills receiver Donald Jones, who has 82 receptions for 887 yards and six touchdowns in his career. And they saw running back Danny Woodhead, their second-leading rusher with 301 yards and four touchdowns, sign with the San Diego Chargers.
On Thursday, New England also signed running back-kick returner Leon Washington away from Seattle.
Welker was Tom Brady’s favorite target during his stay in New England, with at least 100 receptions in five of the six years — including an AFC-leading 118 last season. But a year after tagging him as their franchise player, the Patriots allowed Welker to walk as a free agent and he signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos.
The five-time Pro Bowl selection was introduced to the Denver media on Thursday in a news conference attended by Hall of Famer John Elway and coach John Fox. Amendola finalized his five-year, $31 million deal with New England the same day and he held a conference call with Boston-area reporters on Friday.
“You’ve seen in the NFL the Patriots do a lot of great things in the past,” Amendola said. “It’s a high-caliber football team and organization and it’s a great opportunity to be a part of.”
Welker had 672 receptions and 37 touchdowns during his six years in New England, and it was widely reported that Brady had renegotiated his contract to allow the team to re-sign some of its free agents. Owner Bob Kraft told ESPN this week, “I want Wes Welker to be a Patriot for life. Just like Tom Brady.”
But the Patriots reportedly underbid the Denver offer by as much as $2 million, and Amendola said “it all started going down” with the team on Tuesday, a day before Welker signed with the Broncos.
And Welker’s departure left Patriots fans reeling.
“Say it ain’t so, Wes!” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before their game against Toronto on Thursday night. “He was fun to watch.”
Amendola has 196 receptions and seven touchdowns in four seasons with the Rams. In his best season, 2010, Amendola caught 85 passes for 689 yards; in that same year, Welker had his worst season for the Patriots and caught 86 passes for 848 yards.
But Welker wasn’t yet an established receiver when the Patriots acquired him from the Miami Dolphins in 2007 for two draft picks, at the age of 25.
Amendola, who’s now 27, is hoping for the same kind of growth in New England. He played for current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in St. Louis in 2011, though he only lasted one game that season before a dislocated elbow knocked him out for the rest of the season.
“Just the familiarity I had already with the offense and what I feel like I can bring to the table, that’s what excites me the most,” he said. “The first goal of mine right now is to just fulfill a role on the team really, just find my niche and meet the guys and start working. I’m really not worried about a lot of things down the line.
“I want to get stuff done now and I want to become the best player I can as early as I can for the New England Patriots and I’m sure all the accolades that come with it will come about in the future.”
So, Brady should have plenty of new faces in the huddle this season, as the Patriots shoot for a fifth straight division title.
“When you get an opportunity to play for a coach like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, and just looking at the history — the way those guys perform on the football field and the way they carry the organization — is something that a leader like myself, I want to be a part of, something that can push me and make me a better person and a football player,” Washington said. “When I became a free agent, that’s one thing I wanted to look at: To go into an organization that believes in winning, who wanted to win the Super Bowl.
“That was everything.”