This was an interesting week for the slot receiver. You had the Seahawks pay a massive price for Percy Harvin while the prolific, but much older, Wes Welker had trouble finding a job. Meanwhile Welker was replaced by the younger Danny Amendola while Victor Cruz twists in the wind hoping someone will bite despite his restricted free agent status. So I figured why not go ahead and take a closer look at these players, Cruz’ contract, and examine the Amendola for Welker swap that has agitated a number of New England fans and made countless others scratch their head at the move.
To start with I wanted to examine each players stats when they line up in the slot. For Harvin and Welker these are 3 year averages while for Cruz and Amendola it is just 2. The NFL averages are a 3 year average for all players with at least 25% slot targets as reported by Pro Football Focus.
Out of the group Amendola lined up in the slot an incredible 82.9% of the time. The league average for slot players with at least 25% of snaps in the slot was around 55% so he has almost no use anywhere else on the field. That was far higher than Welker’s 74.4% of the snaps. In terms of targeting there was little difference. Amendola saw the ball come his way slightly over 28% of the time he lined up in the slot, which is slightly higher than Welker at 26.4%. Harvin was the lowest at 25.2%. 19% of the time the slot guy gets the football.
The catch and drop rates, which kind of go hand in hand, in the slot are the first signs of some differences. Harvin had the best catch and lowest drop rate of the group. Amendola and Welker had nearly identical catch rates but the drop rate for Welker is much higher than average and far higher than Amendola’s. Part of the reason the catch rate for Welker is so good is because of Brady. I could see that being a factor in the replacement as there could be a feeling that Amendola will have a catch rate well above Welker’s in this offense. Cruz is around average in catches and well below average in drops. He does run deeper patterns however.
I think these are the categories that upset the New England fan about losing Welker. Amendola’s actual production once he catches the ball is terrible. He is below the league average in both YPC and YPT. The excuse of Sam Bradford only goes so far. For the Patriots to consider him a replacement they are making the leap of faith that Bradford is the only reason his production when catching the ball was so bad. Interestingly enough three players were all below the league average in YPC. Victor Cruz is in his own universe as a slot player. Now the Giants play their offense different than other teams but the production is outrageous. If you are going to run a down the field attack offense he is the guy you need. As a possession receiver I think you can make a strong argument for both Harvin and Welker.
Can these players bring anything outside of the slot? Lets look.
When lining up outside Amendola has the lowest percent of passes caught though in this case the QB he was working with likely makes more of a difference since these are most likely more difficult passes. Both he and Harvin has big drops in their catch efficiency- 11.1% for Amendola and 7.0% for Harvin- compared to the other two. Cruz actually caught a slightly higher percent of passes when lining up outside than he did in the slot. Welker’s drop rate of 11.7% would be alarming.
This was the one area where Harvin stood out with a higher effectiveness in both YPT and YPC when lining up outside. He is the player who lines up on the outside the most and the numbers give reason to play that way. He is a more effective player on the outside and the Seahawks must be banking on him playing there more often and putting up far better numbers with a better QB. Welker and Amendola would both be a notch below, though the two were similar in effectiveness.
Who Would You Choose And At What Price?
Not taking age into account it is hard to see a real clear reason why the Patriots would take an often injured Amendola over Welker. Even when you factor in age the Patriots are a win now team not a win in 3 years team. Amendola is probably going to be less effective on the outside than Welker and its hard to see Brady having such an incredible effect that his yards in the slot would skyrocket up. The one thing that New England may have taken into account is the high number of drops from Welker. He had the famous one in the Super Bowl and while that was not a great pass it was one a great receiver should make. If the Patriots think they are getting somebody more versatile than Welker I don’t see any justification for that line of thinking. That being said I think the numbers do paint a pretty clear picture of why many said Welker is a system receiver that would be much more pedestrian outside of New England.
Of this grouping Cruz is the best receiver and it is by a wide margin. It makes the negotiations interesting for him and the Giants. Harvin’s new money is more than $12.5 million year and he received that in exactly the same contractual situation as Cruz, with his rights held up at under $3 million a season. Prior to that contract I would have assumed that the Giants and Cruz would be working off the base of someone like Marques Colston and determining a value over his $7.25 million a year deal, likely settling between $9 and 10. Harvin’s deal changes everything and gives Cruz a reason to at least seek $13 million a year.
While there is a clear market correction going on around the NFL, most likely because of the ultra high investments in a team QB, Wide Receiver has not been impacted. If anything it has gotten stronger with the deals given to Harvin, Mike Wallace, and Dwayne Bowe. I don’t think Cruz can convince the Giants that he deserves that money now. The Steelers held firm on Wallace last season and Cruz has only had two years in the NFL of note. They will want to see a third. My guess is they will also argue that Harvin is an outlier and to just eliminate the deal from the equation.
In many ways I can see Cruz’ future being tied in with Harvins. If Harvin plays well this season lining up mainly in the slot there will be a number of teams that jump of Cruz as a UFA next season, assuming Cruz has another 1000+ yard season. The NFL is a copycat league and if they see a trend heading that way teams will jump on it. If Harvin does not play well that will be justification for not over-spending on Cruz and tie him in with the rest of the slot market.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.