Some thoughts on the comings and goings so far:
Days later, it’s still hard to understand how this one went down the way it did. According to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the team actually offered Welker a better up-front contract to stay in New England, while the Denver Broncos gave him a deal that, per Kraft, essentially sets him up to be one-and-done with that organization. It makes sense, really, because Peyton Manning is in the twilight of his career and, in his early 30s, so is Welker. Why not bring them together for one season and, if things don’t plan accordingly, design Welker’s contract so he’s easy to dump?
Welker’s agents had a different story of course, saying their client gave Kraft the chance to match Denver’s contract dollar for dollar and he didn’t. So, depending on who you believe, either Welker made an excruciating business decision or he gave the middle finger to New England on purpose because he’s bitter about the two year long contract talks that came down the wire the way they did. Whatever. The real winner in this scenario can’t be determined in the press. Rehash this one next February.
Josh McDaniels brought Brandon Lloyd to New England last season (and he is among the dearly departed in 2013) so it’s no surprise McDaniels has welcomed another former St. Louis Ram into the Patriots fold. Amendola was signed to almost an identical contract to the one the team offered Welker and he’s expected to be the slot receiver’s replacement. Will he pan out as historically well as Welker? Unlikely. But does he have to in order for this to be a good signing by New England? Not at all. Amendola is a reliable guy. He’s quick, he’s got good hands and he’s by all accounts a good teammate. The red flag is whether or not he can stay healthy. The Pats have had enough issues with injuries the last few years on offense (hello, Hernano and Gronk) and it’s impacted their play down the stretch. With a solid offseason conditioning program though, Amendola should be able to stay relatively intact and contribute to the Pats’ group of receivers.
As we all wait with baited breath to find out if right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is going to re-sign with the Patriots (he’s a free agent still), the team brought in Svitek, who has played his career thus far in Atlanta. He was protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side for awhile and proved himself to an athletic, quick, sure-footed tackle. The Patriots desperately need those, with Matt Light’s retirement still being felt and with the departure of Donald Thomas earlier this month. If Vollmer were to re-sign, Svitek would do well as a great back-up to him and Nate Solder, but in the event the Pats are struggling for a starter on opening day (or night), Svitek would be a reliable guy to get the call.
Aqib Talib/Marquis Cole
Two cornerbacks who were with the Patriots last year, Talib and Cole are both coming back. Why group them together? Because Cole’s most memorable – and disasterous – performance as a Patriot came in Talib’s stead. During the AFC Championship game in January, Talib was doing a great job covering explosive wide receiver Anquan Boldin…until he injured his hamstring and Cole stepped in. And it wasn’t pretty. Not to say that was Cole’s fault – the Ravens saw an opening to exploit and did so with gusto – but Cole was still reliable at other points in the season and a strong contributor on special teams. Plus, he’s the kind of player the Pats like – comes in, works hard, blue collar type. Not much flash, but lots of potential.
Considering the Patriots current top safety is a guy who isn’t even really supposed to be a safety (don’t worry Devin, you’re better there than you were at corner), signing a veteran like Wilson was a savvy move by the Patriots. He’s been in Arizona for a decade and proved to be a consistent, reliable presence in the backfield. He’s lost a step over the years but it’s the veteran wisdom that’s going to really help McCourty and the other young safeties develop. Patrick Chung moving on to Philadelphia is just the most recent example of how much defensive backs have crashed and burned in the New England over the last few seasons. They needed someone with the experience to mentor and who can still contribute. Wilson does both.