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Jan 4, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) walks off of the field after a loss to the against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

In the desert that is COVID-19, molehills become mountains, though they nonetheless can be difficult to see. And if this one eluded you yesterday, it is entirely understandable.

Mike Giardi of the NFL Network issued this tweet:

And this is good.

Fact: the Patriots do have something to prove this year. That means all of them, including Edelman, who was the Most Valuable Player the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl. And as much as Edelman has something to prove in the absence of You Know Who, he also has to prove that there is plenty of gas left in his proverbial tank.

Last year, despite a career high in receiving yards, Edelman’s play had slipped by year’s end, his drop in the final minutes of a playoff loss to Tennessee looming as one of the biggest plays of the year. During the regular season, he led the NFL with a whopping 13 drops. Maybe that was the result of injury, maybe that was the result of overall workload resulting from four Super Bowl appearances in the five previous years, maybe it was the result of … age.

Edelman, after all, is now 34. His predecessor, Wes Welker, was long since cooked by then, totaling just 13 catches in his final season, with the St. Louis Rams. Welker’s predecessor, Troy Brown, had just 39 catches as a 34-year-old. His subsequent season, at age 35, was the last in which he made an NFL reception.

Get the picture?

The bigger the chip on his shoulder, the better Julian Edelman plays. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

The bigger the chip on his shoulder, the better Julian Edelman plays. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Now, there is some good news in all of this, most notably that Edelman is still 300 targets short of where Welker was at the end of his career, which is a good sign. (He has slightly more than Brown.) But we all know how this works. In the NFL especially, players can fall off the figurative cliff, transitioning from Super Bowl MVP to utter uselessness in the seeming bat of an eye. It’s not anyone’s fault, least of Edelman’s. It’s just reality.

During this offseason, the Patriots obviously have undergone major changes. Tom Brady left. Rob Gronkowski was traded. Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins departed via free agency. The offense, in particular, lacks experience and track record – especially at the skill positions, especially at wide receiver – and the quarterback may be a first-time starter. And yet, amid all of that, head coach Bill Belichick elected to bring Edelman back, an interesting choice from a man who often prefers to cut ties with players before it is too late.

The conclusion, ultimately, is that Belichick believes Edelman has something left – and that he needs him. More importantly, maybe quarterback Jarrett Stidham does. Now Edelman seems intent on disproving those who believe he is either a product of Brady or downright cashed, either of which might create a rather sizable chip (or two) on the receiver’s shoulders.

And as we all know, dating back to his place as an unknown seventh-round draft pick, Julian Edelman was all but born into the NFL amid considerable doubt.

And the bigger the chip(s) on his shoulder, the better he played.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.