The New England Patriots have not yet taken the field for the 2013 season, but the games have begun.
The departure of star receiver Wes Welker to Denver on Wednesday kicked off a flurry of action from the Patriots. Running back Danny Woodhead was lost to San Diego on Friday, but the team also started to fill some gaps by signing receiver Danny Amendola from St. Louis and kick return specialist Leon Washington from Seattle.
The moves continued Friday with the signing of former Bills receiver Donald Jones and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, a four-time All-Pro. The Patriots also re-signed cornerback Kyle Arrington to a four-year contract.
Also on Friday, according to espn.com, defensive linemen Dwight Freeney and John Abraham met with the Patriots. Both are veteran pass rushers who might be willing to accept inexpensive contracts.
Welker’s departure, however, has left 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.” Even team owner Bob Kraft told ESPN this week, “I want Wes Welker to be a Patriot for life. Just like Tom Brady.”
Amendola, Welker’s likely replacement, spoke to the media in Foxborough for the first time on Friday. It’s not the first time he followed in Welker’s footsteps.
Welker was a sophomore at Texas Tech when Amendola committed to the Red Raiders, and now the Rams free agent will have to replace one of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catchers.
“I’ve been hearing (the comparisons) for a long time,” Amendola said. “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.”
Amendola received a five-year deal for $31 million, according to various reports.
“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.”
Amendola had 196 receptions and seven touchdowns in four seasons with the Rams. In 2010 — his best season — Amendola caught 85 passes for 689 yards. That year, Welker had his worst season for the Patriots, catching 86 passes for 848 yards.
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 before a dislocated elbow ended his 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.”
Washington, a standout kick returner who is quite familiar with the Patriots from his days as a member of the Jets, also met the media Friday.
Said Washington: “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.
“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.”