When Wes Welker left New England for Denver, Tom Brady still had Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the offensive side with him. But as far as true receivers, the cupboard was a little bare.
But unlike 2006, when the Patriots traded Brady favorite Deion Branch and left him with the sad-sack group of Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Doug Gabriel, and a past-his-prime Troy Brown, this time they’re making a better effort to restock the position.
Following Wednesday’s signing of Danny Amendola, on Friday the team added the Bills’ Donald Jones, and also hosted Emmanuel Sanders, a restricted free agent with the Steelers.
In a conference call with media, Amendola said his relationship with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who held the same position in St. Louis in 2011, was a big selling point.
“Playing for Josh for one year gave me the opportunity to learn his offense and kind of figure out what I could do within the offense, what really excited me,’’ Amendola said. “I loved playing for him even though I went down in the first game that year [a dislocated elbow that would put him on injured reserve] and I didn’t get much after that first game.
“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.’’
The 27-year-old was asked about comparisons with Welker, which have followed him for years: both had successful careers at Texas Tech, both went undrafted, and both needed more than one chance before sticking on an NFL roster; Welker was cut by San Diego before finding success in Miami, and Amendola was with the Eagles and Cowboys before finding a spot with the Rams.
“All those comparisons to Wes, I’ve been hearing it for a long time,’’ he said. “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.’’
Amendola’s contract with the Patriots is for five years and $31 million, with $10 million guaranteed; $6 million of that is a signing bonus. His base salary for the coming season is $2 million. That number is set to go up $1 million per year for the life of the contract.
Jones, 25, is heading into his fourth season, and was set to be a restricted free agent. But the Bills did not offer him a tender, making him available.
Listed at 6 feet, 208 pounds, Jones is versatile, able to line up just about anywhere. Last year, he caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns for Buffalo.
In two games against the Patriots, he had eight receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns, including a 68-yard reception in Week 4. In 2011, Jones had five catches for 101 yards in Buffalo’s 34-31 win over New England.
So despite injury concerns — he missed time in ’11 with an ankle injury, had a calf issue last season, and finished 2012 on injured reserve due to an unspecified illness — signing Jones may be another Bill Belichick “if you can’t cover him, sign him’’ move, in the mold of Welker years ago.
Getting Jones on board may influence whether the Patriots keep Brandon Lloyd; there is a Saturday deadline for New England to decide whether it wants to pick up a $3 million option bonus for the wide receiver who caught 74 balls for 911 yards and four TDs in 2012.
ESPN reported Friday that the Patriots were trying to restructure Lloyd’s contract.
Sanders, another young (he’ll be 26 on Sunday), versatile and speedy receiver, if he were to remain with the Steelers, would likely step into the starting role that’s come open since Mike Wallace signed with Miami.
However, he was only tendered at the original-round level by the Steelers, meaning that if another team were to offer Sanders a contract, Pittsburgh would have the right to match it or receive a third-round draft pick in return, since Sanders was drafted in that round in 2010.
Playing in all 16 games last year (seven starts), the Southern Methodist product had 44 catches for 626 yards (14.2 yards per reception), though just one touchdown.
Pittsburgh is in a difficult cap situation, so depending on the contract the Patriots offered — if they were to offer one — it could be difficult for the team to match, particularly if it were front loaded. If he stays with the Steelers, Sanders’s 2013 salary will be $1.33 million.
It is possible, however, for the two sides to work out a trade, as New England did with Miami in 2007 to get Welker.