As the Patriots re-shape their offense this offseason, one name has floated somewhat under the radar. That would be Julian Edelman, who is objectively one of the biggest question marks heading into the 2021 season.
Edelman’s future with the team is now as murky as ever, following a report from the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian that it’s “doubtful” the 34-year-old could play a full slate of games in 2021. Those doubts stem from lingering issues connected to a knee injury he suffered last season, and limited him to just six games.
Back it October, Edelman has a ‘procedure’ done on his knee, which at the time was not expected to end his season. Yet it kept him sidelined for the remainder of the year, and there are still issues relating to the original injury. “Surgery can provide temporary relief, nothing can solve the underlying problem,” Guregian writes.
The question of what to do with Edelman is one the Patriots won’t be able to dodge. According to Guregian, he wants to try and play as much as he can this year. He’ll be 35 by the time training camp rolls around, and will carry a $6 million cap hit on the final year of his contract. If the team ends up cutting or trading him, the team would save $3.4 million.
There’s also the issue of his roster spot. The Patriots currently have three wide receivers right now who figure to be roster locks in Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers. Gunner Olszewski could be added as a fourth, given his punt return abilities. N’Keal Harry could get traded, but if the Patriots can’t find a deal they like, it’s unlikely they’d outright release him. That’s five receivers already, before even addressing the possibility of them adding one in the draft.
On top of that, the Patriots roster isn’t built to carry an excess at the wide receiver position. After signing Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry last month, the team figures to use two tight end sets on a regular basis, limited the snaps available to receivers. There projects to be regular playing time for only two receivers, instead of the usual three.
Even beyond Smith and Henry, the Patriots used two relatively premium picks on tight ends in last year’s draft, who they may be hesitant to part ways with after just one season. If they’re going to keep four tight ends on the roster, it would be incredibly difficult to also keep six or seven wideouts, and still have enough room on the roster for depth needed at other positions.
So where does that leave Edelman? Well, if he’s not ready to start the season, that could actually help him. The Patriots could place him on PUP, and revisit the issue later in the season. Between injuries and natural attrition, the team could have room for him at a later point, and he could prove to be a strong addition if he’s healthy enough for an 8-10 game stretch. If the team does want him on the roster to start the year, they could handle him the way the Celtics have handled Kemba Walker, and selectively activate him in games they feel he’d be the most useful.
Ultimately, it’s in Edelman’s best interest to work with the Patriots if he wants to keep on playing. Despite all of the rumors he could join Tom Brady in Tampa, the Buccaneers’ wide receiver room is loaded with talent. It’s hard to see them giving up much if anything for a guy who would struggle to see the field and carries a not insignificant cap hit. Even if Edelman is released, it’s hard to imagine him having a robust market, especially now that it’s out there he can’t play a full season.
That’s not to say Edelman presents to value to the Patriots this year. Again, if injuries take their toll on the wide receiver position, he would represent a much better Plan B than signing whoever is left in free agency. Also, as the team continues to go through somewhat of a rebuild, he’s a valuable voice, teacher, and resource for new and younger players in the locker room.
Edelman has had a long, successful career with the Patriots. However it ends, he’ll go down as one of the historical faces of the franchise. Can he add one last chapter to the story? Or will the team move on, issuing yet another reminder we’ve entered a new era of Patriots football.
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 abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.