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Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

The departure of Tom Brady impacted nobody on the Patriots roster than Julian Edelman. The chemistry he had built over a decade of working day in and day out with the same quarterback was suddenly gone. To what extent that was going to impact him was one of the biggest questions entering 2020.

The answer? Greatly. Edelman struggled early on to be the same volume-targeted, safety net receiver he’d been so reliably for most of his career. That impeccable timing he’d had with Brady suddenly wasn’t there, and it appeared to throw the rest of his game off before a knee procedure ended his season in late October.

So what do the Patriots do with Edelman now? He’s still under contract through 2021, but the team would save $4 million in cap space by trading or releasing him. Then there’s the reality of his age. Edelman turns 35 in June. No player has ever caught more than 100 passes – a number Edelman needs to be in the ballpark of to be effective – beyond the age of 34.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 13: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

This isn’t to say all hope is lost for the Super Bowl LIII MVP. He now has a healthy knee, that’s big. A new quarterback could also prove to be a breath of fresh air. If the Patriots bring in a guy who will allow them to run a more traditional offense, such as Matthew Stafford, there will be an opportunity for Edelman to become that safety blanket once again.

He can also be a valuable veteran resource for what projects once again to be a very young wide receiver room. Belichick mentioned last week how helpful he had been while in IR, staying around the facility as a resource. Jakobi Meyers has raved numerous times about being able to chat and pick his brain about the position.

If that’s not worth it for the Patriots though, then all options are on the table. The team could try to trade Edelman, but the return won’t likely be ideal given his age and the fact he’s coming off a somewhat serious knee injury. Plus, if he’s sent somewhere he doesn’t want to play, Edelman could retire, and nullify the trade. He’ll have some control over his final destination (something, something, Tampa, something).

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 18: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots looks on after the game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 18: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots looks on after the game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Without a trade, the Patriots could release Edelman, but short of him refusing to play there isn’t much reason to do so. They’ll get nothing in return, so why not at least wait until training camp and see how his knee looks?

The only reason to cut Edelman before then is if the team feels like he’s earned the right to dictate his future, it’s what he wants, and no trade can be worked out. Based on how things went with Brady last year though, that could be a stretch.

There’s also the issue of who replaces him. When Troy Brown retired, the team had Wes Welker ready to go. When they elected to not pay Welker, Edelman was ready to go.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 18: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots warms up before the game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Is the ‘next man up’ currently in place? Jakobi Meyers had success in the second half of 2020 as a hybrid inside/outside guy, but the volume of Edelman’s role would be another level for him. Looking at the rest of the current roster, players like Gunner Olszewski and Isaiah Zuber fit the prototype, but are incredibly raw and likely wouldn’t be able to handle the workload as soon as 2021.

If the Patriots can find a logical true replacement for Edelman, either through free agency, a trade, or the draft (Kadarius Toney), their decision becomes much easier. Otherwise, there’s a situation where Edelman stays, at least into training camp, by default.

It’s never fun to talk about the departure of a guy who’s been so successful and meant so much to the organization. But that’s where we’re at with Julian Edelman. Maybe it’ll be a little easier for the fans’ heartstrings after going through the Brady saga last year, but there are tough decisions coming for the team relating to No. 11.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.