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Danny Amendola-Julian Edelman debate has a couple of important catches

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 4, 2014 11:04 AM

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Don't feel great about this particular perspective, because Julian Edelman deserves endless accolades -- and a decent payday -- for putting in the time to convert from a Mid-American Conference dual-threat quarterback to that rare NFL entity, a wide receiver who has earned Tom Brady's trust.

But I just can't convince myself that the Patriots should be the team to give him a long-term deal, especially if it's in the guesstimated $5 million-per-year range. It's sort of a shame, because Edelman is a self-made valuable player, a seventh-round pick made good, the type you like to see rewarded with whatever temporary security the NFL provides.

I'm skeptical that his excellent season was the confirmation of who he will be as a receiver going forward. He played all 16 games for the first time in his career -- and I'm not sure we can bank on his durability just yet.

And he was in the right place at the right time, on the field when Brady looked to him, and, in a grander respect, seizing a massive opportunity.

Edelman benefited from the Gotta Throw It To Someone Effect and the major attrition from the previous season; of the Patriots' top five pass-catchers from '12, only Rob Gronkowski played a game last year. We need no rehash of the abrupt ending to his season.

Edelman is a nice player. I'd love to see him back at double or even triple his 2013 salary of $715,000 plus incentives. But he's a complementary player, one whose production dipped (10 catches in one three-game stretch) when Gronk was healthy. He's not someone a defense needs to game-plan to stop (do you really think Denver feared him as the Patriots' No. 1 receiving threat?).

I think NFL.com hit Edelman's status right between the numbers when it rated him the 45th-best free agent in this year's unrestricted class:

Underrated as an athlete and playmaker, Edelman is an injury-prone role player whose career year was largely the result of filling the vacuum left by better talents in New England. If you weren't willing to pay him last year, why break the bank this year?

Forty-fifth, for what it is worth, is the highest I saw him ranked on various free-agent lists. He is regarded as a system player, one who took great advantage of Brady's ability to turn a slot receiver who runs the proper routes into a pass-catching machine.

It's also not wise to pay two receivers with relatively similar skill sets, especially since neither is an outside threat. I know many are down on Danny Amendola, and Brady may be among them. Amendola was somewhere between useless and invisible in the AFC Championship game, and it's alarming that he didn't have Brady's trust at season's end. It can't be dismissed that he had 51 fewer receptions than Edelman in four fewer games. In many ways, it was a lost first season in New England for Amendola.

He may not get a second. Rumors suggest the Patriots are considering trading him. If they find a taker, it's a job well done by their front office. Cutting him makes no sense whatsoever, as my colleague Ben Volin noted in Tuesday's paper:

It actually would cost the Patriots more cap money to outright cut Amendola instead of keeping him ($4.8 million compared with $4.6 million). If they designate him as a June 1 cut, Amendola would count only $1.2 million in 2014 and $3.6 million in 2015.

It costs a lot to keep him. It costs more to send him away. Given that he did have his moments -- most notably a 10-catch, 104-yard Patriots debut in a game in which he tore his groin on both sides -- it's fair to believe he is worthy of that second season. Again: He tore both sides of his groin, yet managed to play 12 games, including the final nine.

Edelman/Amendola is a classic buy-high/sell-low situation. Entering the 2013 season, both players were regarded as injury-prone, and Amendola was considered far and away the better receiver. Circumstances changed that perception somewhat as the schedule played out; Amendola got hurt and struggled to connect with the quarterback, and Edelman seized his opportunity.

But just as conventional wisdom didn't tell the whole story of Amendola vs. Edelman before the season, the complicated results from the last 18 games (playoffs included) don't tell the whole story now.

Amendola isn't as bad as he looked. Edelman probably isn't as good. And since the former already has a contract for good money that is hard to move, the harsh reality is that he's probably the one who gets to stay.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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