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Don’t be surprised if this Patriots wide receiver is the odd man out

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NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here it goes...

Danny Amendola is more of a roster lock than Chris Hogan.

Sure, I realize the take has some warmth to it, but think of it like stepping into a sauna — the initial wave of heat seems overwhelming, but once you get settled in, you start to understand the appeal.

First, let me state that I do believe both guys are making the 53-man roster. I’m simply making the argument that if someone has to go, it won’t be #80.

Next, a quick account of the current wide receiver personnel in Foxborough, listed alphabetically in an attempt to shirk any bias. If you need clarification on Matthew Slater’s absence from this ledger, I simply can’t help you. The list reads:

Danny Amendola, Austin Carr, Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Andrew Hawkins, Chris Hogan, Cody Hollister, Devin Lucien, Malcolm Mitchell, DeAndrew White.

Alright — let’s dive into this take — starting with the public perception that Danny Amendola is on the bubble.

I am firmly of the opinion that a third restructuring of the thirty-one-year-old’s contract, which saved the club $4.75 million in 2017 cap space, practically guaranteeing his spot on the 2017 53-man roster.

The Patriots gave him a $100k signing bonus up front along with a $50k workout bonus and $300k in per-game roster bonuses ($18,750 per game). More importantly, they guaranteed him a 2017 salary of $1.25 million. When factoring in Amendola’s previous $1,416,666 signing bonus prorations, his 2017 cap number comes out to $3,041,668 — all but $275k of which would still count against the cap should he be cut.

If the Patriots had any question about Amendola's role on the 53-man roster this season, they would’ve cut him to save the cap space and eventually, assuming his availability, they would resign him to a qualifying veteran minimum contract like the ones Brandon Bolden and Andrew Hawkins are playing on. Instead, they gave him an additional $1.35 in guaranteed 2017 cash - something you don't do if your plan is to have the player battle it out in training camp for a spot on the roster.

However, public perception seems to be that Amendola is in such a battle. So who are the public’s favorites to oust the nine-year veteran?

There’s almost nothing New England fans love more than a solid crop of undrafted free agents. Realistically they don’t even need to be solid. Austin Carr, the Northwestern University standout, is a prime example. A small cluster of available You Tube highlight clips, a high PFF college grade, and some gaudy stat production in Evanston have some salivating New England fans ready to lead the charge in anointing him as the Patriots’ slot receiver of the future.

Carr, in tight competition with Harvey Langi and Jacob Hollister for the annual title of “most over-hyped UDFA” heading into camp, has already garnered some chatter as the potential heir apparent to Julian Edelman — with some going as far as calling him Welker-like.

This kind of talk is obviously ridiculous. Even with a spectacular summer, there is zero room on the 53-man roster for him, so Austin Carr truthers may need to hope he comes down with a case of the Foxborough Flu. If not, he’ll be a welcome addition to the practice squad provided he clears waivers following his inevitable release. He poses no threat to Danny Amendola this summer.

Andrew Hawkins’ arrival a few weeks ago, followed by the subsequent release of Devin Street, came in the midst of a tremendous dry spell in Patriots news. Naturally, this urge for any football-related development led to serious over excitement about the transaction, resulting in the embellishment of the the player’s skill set.

Remember, Hawkins was available for a reason. The five-foot seven-inch undrafted journeyman had spent time in Canada, Saint Louis, and Cincinnati prior to his stay in Cleveland. At his size, he only works the slot, a particularly crowded section of the Patriots’ wide receiver group. He, like Carr, poses no serious threat to Amendola’s spot.

In the fog of nonsensicality that is the idea that Amendola’s roster spot is in jeopardy, Karen Guregian’s piece in Thursday morning’s Boston Herald is a welcome beacon of light — and hopefully not the last.

So what makes Chris Hogan less of a roster lock than Danny Amendola?

I again feel compelled to remind you that I do believe Hogan will make the roster. However, for the sake of the argument, imagine that a scenario does play out this summer where the aforementioned Carr or Hawkins blows the coaching staff's hair back, or a player from another tightly contested position forces his way onto the roster.

As the primary outside receiving option 2016, Hogan was, by post-Randy Moss-Patriots standards, pretty effective in stretches. His 17.9 yards per catch tied him with DeSean Jackson for tops in the league as he assisted in stretching the field — something that was particularly needed in the absence of Rob Gronkowski.

That being said, there may not be a player on the roster who was more negatively impacted by the arrival of Brandin Cooks. Cooks, who is already building a rapport with Tom Brady, is the best field-stretching wide receiver the Patriots have gotten their hands on since Randy Moss. In 2017, he is projected to assume Hogan's role on the outside with Julian Edelman in the slot, presumably pushing Hogan into a battle with Malcolm Mitchell, who is looking to build on a strong rookie campaign.

The addition of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen to the 2017 passing attack will already cut into the amount of three and four wide receiver sets, and this is also before mentioning the plethora of running backs with pass catching ability. There are only so many places the football can go. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

If one of the previously identified hypothetical scenarios happens to play out, and the Patriots are forced to make a decision on which wide receiver is expendable, what will be the main factors in that choice?

Versatility is always somewhere near the top of the Patriots’ list.

While Chris Hogan was a primary contributor on special teams in Buffalo, he logged just 8 special teams snaps in 2016. Malcolm Mitchell wasn’t involved in special teams at all, while Amendola and Edelman brought solidarity to the punt return unit in the wake of the Cyrus Jones’ debacle. If specials teams is as large of a factor as it typically is in situation where you’re talking about a third or fourth wide receiver spot on the depth chart, Hogan could be the odd man out.

From a production standpoint, the public's love for Hogan seems to also be carrying some recency bias. There is no denying his fantastic performance in the first two legs of the playoffs last season, but outside of yards per catch (a product of his route assignments in the scheme), his regular season numbers were fairly pedestrian. A quick comparison:

Hogan: 38 catches on 58 targets for a 65.5% catch rate, 21.8 offensive snaps per reception, 4 touchdowns.

Amendola: 23 catches on 29 targets for a 79.9% catch rate, 11.5 offensive snaps per reception, 4 touchdowns.

The financials appear to lean in Amendola’s favor as well.

Cutting or trading Amendola:

  • $2,766,668 dead money in 2017.
  • $275,000 savings in 2017.

Cutting or trading Hogan:

  • $2,500,000 dead money in 2017.
  • A cap savings of $468,750 in 2017.
  • A cap savings of $3.5 million in 2018.

For those still firmly of the belief that Amendola is on the roster bubble, and who point to the Patriots’ current abundance in cap space as an indication that his cap charge won’t effect their decision to release him, hopefully these figures portray that the same can be said of Hogan.

He’s under contract through 2018, at reasonable $2.5 million and $3.5 million salaries, and appears to be, at this point, a luxury item on an incredible roster. Actually, come to think of it...

Can someone please tell me why the Patriots shouldn’t trade Chris Hogan?

Go ahead and follow Brian Phillips on Twitter - @BPhillips_NFL