By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady had trouble developing a strong rapport with most of his receiving corps in 2019. Much of that had to do with the fact that those receivers were not open very often.
When it comes to solving that minor issue in 2020, Brady could look to an old friend.
In an idea floated by NESN’s Doug Kyed — an informed idea — Brady could be looking to play with former Patriots receiver Danny Amendola in 2020. Whether that’s in New England or elsewhere remains a question, but it would not be at all surprising for Brady to seek a receiver with whom he has a strong level of trust and who provides a certain reliability that can be difficult to find.
Don't be surprised if Tom Brady brings along FA WR Danny Amendola to wherever he plays next season. That could even be a reunion in New England.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) January 29, 2020
Kyed reported that possibility via someone “with knowledge of the situation.”
By and large, this potential reunion would really only interest New Englanders if that reunion takes place in Foxboro. While such a scenario is certainly possible, it also would require some mending of fences between Amendola and Bill Belichick. As NFL Network’s Mike Giardi noted, Amendola was not exactly in Belichick’s good graces last year around this time, when he was a free agent.
That would mean Belichick got over Amendola burning bridges on his way out. And trust me, Amendola was persona non grata last offseason and during those joint practices. https://t.co/z0zbWOeNts
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) January 29, 2020
For anyone who forgot, here’s a sampling of what Amendola said after leaving the Patriots following the Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles: “Coach [Adam] Gase is one of the guys, one of the boys, and you want to fight hard for your boys. Back in New England, it’s almost like you’ve got a principal, the principal’s office and s— like that. In a good way and in a bad way, too.”
Also: “It’s not easy [playing for Belichick], that’s for sure. He’s an a—— sometimes.”
And on the mysterious benching of Malcolm Butler in that Super Bowl loss, Amendola wonder, “In hindsight, it’s like, ‘Really, what agenda are we on?’ It’s something that I will probably never really understand.”
One more on that: “I was out there putting my blood, sweat and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn’t on the field.”
It wasn’t all bad, as Amendola was always quick to refer to Belichick as the greatest coach of all time. Amendola also noted how many of the negative aspects of playing in New England ultimately led to the Patriots being a championship team every year. So, perhaps, if the situation arises, a potential New England reunion for Brady, Amendola, Julian Edelman, Belichick and Josh McDaniels could be in the cards for 2020.
There’s quite a bit of “if” involved, though.
Transferring from speculation to opinion, it’s worth exploring whether or not the Patriots need a player like Amendola. And, after Belichick had to have learned in 2019 that it’s a rather challenging task to find players “like Amendola,” the answer has to be yes.
With Jakobi Meyers, Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry, the Patriots didn’t have the usual deep stable of receivers with a knack and understanding for finding the sticks and keeping drives alive. As a result, the Patriots punted 81 times. That’s a lot of punts. In fact, only one team punted more, and that team was the 7-9 New York Jets. The other 11 playoff teams averaged 63 punts this season. The two teams currently preparing for Super Bowl LIV had 48 punts (Chiefs) and 52 punts (49ers).
From 2014-18, aka the Super Bowl renaissance in New England, the Patriots averaged 67 punts per year. It may sound simplistic to say that eliminating 14 punts from the 2019 season would have made all the difference in the world for the Patriots. But also … eliminating 14 punts from the 2019 season would have made all the difference in the world for the Patriots.
In the loss at Houston, they punted four times and lost by six points.
In the loss the following week against the Chiefs, they punted four times and lost by seven points.
Add in that the Patriots converted just twice on five attempts on fourth down, and that they converted just 11 of 29 third downs in those two losses, and you’ve got a clear picture of a team that struggled mightily to pick up first downs.
Had it been Amendola over the middle instead of Phillip Dorsett on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line in Houston, that field goal might have turned into a touchdown. Had it been Amendola instead of Harry on the next possession, Brady probably doesn’t throw a back-breaking interception to a receiver losing his battle. Had Amendola been on the field on the next drive, Brady likely doesn’t have to attempt a deep heave to Meyers on an unsuccessful third-and-6. And you know that if it had been Amendola instead of Sanu catching a pass near the left sideline on third-and-4, that would’ve been a four-yard gain instead of the three-yard pickup that Sanu got.
You get the idea.
For a picture of how poorly the Patriots’ receiving corps did behind Edelman at picking up first downs, check out these numbers:
PATRIOTS’ RECEIVERS FIRST DOWNS, 2019
1. Julian Edelman, 54
2. Jakobi Meyers, 17
2. Phillip Dorsett, 17
4. Mohamed Sanu, 14
5. Josh Gordon, 10
6. N’Keal Harry, 7
A drop from 54 to 17 shows a clear need for a chain-moving, drive-sustaining wide receiver. Amendola, who picked up 36 first downs for Detroit last season, can be that guy. Because he has been that guy.
Amendola is obviously not the biggest, fastest or strongest receiver. But he shares a certain wavelength with Brady, which can’t really be taught. That’s how Amendola picked up 40 first downs in the 2017 regular season, and it’s how Amendola caught touchdowns in both of his Super Bowl wins (plus a two-point conversion vs. Atlanta). It’s also how Amendola became the central driver of the Patriots’ incredible comeback victory against Jacksonville in the AFC title game, when he caught two fourth-quarter touchdowns to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
The second one was super sweet, too:
Apropos of absolutely nothing … this was an insane catch to give the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl, once upon a time. Gollllly. pic.twitter.com/JeJQURxTSg
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) December 23, 2019
While Amendola will turn 35 years old next season, he will be coming off the second-highest receiving yardage total of his career. That he put up such numbers despite playing half the season with David Blough and Jeff Driskel as his quarterbacks shows his value in an offense.
All of that is a long way of saying this: While the Patriots’ offense looked somewhat hopeless by the end of the 2019 season, a smart addition like Amendola could go a long way in helping to make that unit resemble a championship offense.
Of course, they’d still likely need to re-sign Brady, which is kind of the point of this entire discussion. And if both Brady and Amendola signed up for work in Foxboro in 2020, they’d still need to add a couple of competent tight ends, and shore up their offensive line, and make sure they have a solid choice for their new O-line coach … but aside from that, this speculation makes a whole lot of sense.