FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots will be without top receiver Julian Edelman for a significant stretch of time because of a left foot injury, but they're fortunate to have Danny Amendola as part of their replacement plan.
That wasn't always a given for 2015.
In the weeks following the elation of Super Bowl XLIX, the Patriots approached Amendola about adjusting his 2015 salary after a drop in production. If the two sides couldn't come to an agreement, they might have parted ways. Amendola, after just two seasons in New England, considered that possibility.
"It took me a couple days and a lot of talking," he revealed in the days leading up to Monday night's game against the Buffalo Bills (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
Amendola has spoken briefly in the past about his decision to return to the Patriots in 2015, but he hasn't elaborated on why he ultimately accepted what essentially was a $2 million pay reduction. His 2015 base salary was slashed from $4 million to $1.25 million, and he received a $500,000 signing bonus and the possibility of earning an additional $250,000 in incentives in the revamped deal.
"Was that a decision I would have made five years ago?" he said. "I don't know. I can't say that it would be."
Amendola, 30, has a different perspective on life in the NFL than he did in his mid-20s, when he was breaking through with the St. Louis Rams. In his development and arrival in New England, he has grown to appreciate playing for something more than himself.
It probably helped that he earned around $12 million over the first two years of the contract he signed with the Patriots in March 2013.
When the Patriots signed him to that contract, a five-year pact with a maximum value of $31 million, it was with the intention that he would be the top replacement for departed free agent Wes Welker.
That's not the way it unfolded, as a groin injury sustained in the 2013 season-opener against the Bills (he was terrific in that game, despite the injury) was the first big hurdle. Then in 2014, Edelman was paired with Brandon LaFell as the team's top two receivers, so Amendola settled into more of a pure No. 3 role. He played all 16 regular-season games but just 41 percent of the offensive snaps.
That's what led to the Patriots' approaching him about the pay cut, even as he came on strong in the playoffs last year. While some players take a pay-cut request personally -- safety Lawyer Milloy in 2003 comes to mind -- Amendola seems at peace with it.
"I'm my own business, and I'm competing with everyone else on the team and competing with the organization for me to get paid," he said. "At the same time, I'm a good teammate. I want to be there for my teammates. I want to be part of something great. ...
"When it came down to it, it was also about playing good football. I've been on a 1-15 team. I've been on teams that never made it to the playoffs. It wasn't fun playing meaningless football. When you're playing meaningful football at the end of the season, and every play and every route that you run counts, every ball you catch counts, and it's either win or go home, what I found in the sense of coming here is that's the most rewarding thing.
"I understand it's a business. Money wasn't really something I was counting in that situation. ... I feel like I want to be part of something good. I want to play good football, and my family is here. Those were really the three things that helped me with the decision."
On the field, Amendola has essentially come full circle with the Patriots. He is coming off one of his best games with the team, the Patriots' most recent victory, a 27-26 thriller over the New York Giants on Nov. 15.
Amendola's 82-yard punt return in the third quarter was a momentum-swinger, as the Patriots had fallen behind 20-10. Then on the game-winning drive, when there were no timeouts and the margin for error was razor thin, he delivered a 12-yard reception on fourth-and-10.
On the play before Stephen Gostkowski's 54-yard field goal with six seconds left, Amendola's 9-yard reception, on which his run after the catch turned what would have been a 60-yard attempt into a 54-yarder, was cited by coach Bill Belichick as critical.
"I understand it's a business. Money wasn't really something I was counting in that situation. ... I feel like I want to be part of something good, I want to play good football, and my family is here. Those were really the three things that helped me with the decision."Danny Amendola
After the game, quarterback Tom Brady said, "He's a great player for us, and he always comes up big when we need him."
In essence, this is what the Patriots envisioned when they signed Amendola in 2013.
"He was a big free agent. Remember, he was supposed to be the guy that replaced Welker, but instead, he got nicked up, and that allowed Edelman to step in there and basically assume that role," said Bills coach Rex Ryan, who has spent the past week studying the Patriots' offense.
"This is a fine football player, and everybody knows that about him. He gets open, and I think he is no different than Welker and Edelman. He has change of direction skills, competes for the football, does all those types of things."
When Amendola first arrived in New England, it was easy to make comparisons to Welker, as he looked like him on the practice field, with Welker 5-foot-9, 185 pounds and Amendola listed at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. The Patriots also had some inside information, based on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' having coached Amendola in St. Louis in 2011.
"It's no different than what Josh said from what it was in St. Louis, and I'd say the first spring that he was here, he stood out daily in the OTA work, whatever it was: short routes, deep routes, catching the ball, quickness, returns," Belichick said. "Now, he's missed some time, but overall, I'd say his overall play and performance, he's made a lot of big plays for us in critical situations."
Two things that have contributed to Amendola's hitting his stride with the Patriots have been getting him involved as a kickoff and punt returner (that sparked him later in 2014, when his offensive touches were down) and managing his overall workload to reduce injury risk.
That bears monitoring this season in the wake of Edelman's injury, as the coaching staff is unlikely to simply give Amendola all of Edelman's snaps. Entering last week, Edelman was averaging 63 offensive snaps per game, while Amendola was at 41.5.
"Danny is ready to go at any point in time that we need him in the game. There have been a lot of games where he's played more snaps, and then there have been some game plans where, based on circumstances we thought was best, it was a little different," McDaniels said. "But Danny's attitude is tremendous. I know he'll be ready to take on any added responsibilities or challenges moving forward here."
McDaniels added Amendola has "grown more and more comfortable in our system with the things we ask of him, and his trust level with the quarterback has grown and gone forward every year."
That trust was reflected in Brady's inviting Amendola to Montana (where Brady was vacationing) to train with him and Edelman in the weeks before 2015 training camp.
For any new receiver in New England, gaining Brady's trust is often a significant challenge, as Brady is especially demanding of his pass-catchers. Adapting to that, as well as the Patriots' hard-driving culture, has been a process for Amendola.
"... I was coming from an organization [in St. Louis] that was worried about getting fans to come to the games, as opposed to playing the best football and blocking everything else out, the noise outside the building. It's a culture that I really love here," Amendola said. "It may look to everyone else, on the outside, that this is a culture that wants to play to get recognition or be popular or get on ESPN or whatever. But it's just about playing good football and doing the little things, the attention to detail. That's what I've learned the Patriots Way being: holding yourself accountable and attention to detail. It doesn't matter who you are, how long you've played, whether you're the nutritionist or starting quarterback, you're going to be held accountable, and you have a role."
Amendola smiled when reflecting on the time in March when he was weighing his options. He recalled his girlfriend and brother watching ESPN in the family room of his home, and he heard them laughing at something one of the analysts said.
"What's so funny?" he asked them.
The analyst was downplaying the contributions of players such as Amendola and Edelman and saying if Brady can put up big statistics throwing to them, he could do so with anybody.
Some might have taken it as an insult, but Amendola took it to heart when the analyst went on to compare an offense to a salad.
"In reality, what this guy was saying was that a good team is like a salad -- you have the lettuce, the croutons, the carrots, whatever else you want to put in it, and the quarterback is the salad dressing," Amendola recalled. "So he was basically saying, 'If you don't have the full salad, you're not going to have a meal.' I thought that made sense. But it was funny getting made fun of and watching my brother and girlfriend laugh at me."
Amendola, in some ways, has had the last laugh, as he has 40 receptions for 403 yards and two touchdowns while being one of the Patriots' most consistent performers this season.
He has already surpassed last year's totals (27 catches, 200 yards, 1 TD), and he is on pace to top what he accomplished his first year in New England (54 catches, 633 yards, 2 TDs).
He explained that his approach is to try to expand his role by going hard on every play in practice every day, so that there are no regrets. Sometimes he is heavily involved in the game plan, and other times not so much.
As with his contract, he is at peace with that.
"At the end of the day, to win is what I'm after, what everyone is after," he said. "I've caught 15 balls in a game, 12 balls in a game and lost, and I wasn't fulfilled. I've caught zero balls in a game, and we've won, and that felt good. At the end of the day, if you're winning the game, leaving the locker room happy, and you start the next week off right, you try to do whatever you can to keep that rolling."
Whether Amendola is part of keeping it rolling beyond 2015 is a question to be answered in the future. As part of his reduced contract in 2015, the sides didn't alter the 2016 and 2017 seasons, which call for Amendola to earn $5 million and $6 million, respectively.
Thus, Amendola might have to consider another pay cut if he is to stay in New England beyond this year.
"Honestly, I've had this conversation with my agent, with my people, with my family, and I'm not even focused on that," he said. "I'm very blessed to play in this league, and I'm honestly just focused on playing football and doing what I have to do."
He's doing it well. And with Edelman out for the foreseeable future, the Patriots are set to rely on Amendola more than ever.