Patriots

What happens with Julian Edelman in 2021?

After his 2020 season was cut short by injury, and with one year left on his contract, will Julian Edelman be a New England Patriot next season?

Julian Edelman Patriots receiver
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

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Like happened for many others this year, Julian Edelman’s 2020 did not go nearly as planned.

The 34-year-old receiver missed 10 games for a knee injury that required in-season surgery, and wound up costing Edelman the rest of his 2020 season. His recent injury history, combined with his age, make it no sure thing that Edelman is a New England Patriot next season.

While Edelman is on the books for an affordable $6.2 million in the final year of his contract next season, the team would also save about $2.7 million this offseason if they parted ways with him, via trade or release.

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In an offseason that will involve significant roster turnover as the team looks to re-work a roster devoid of depth and talent, the team may decide the cap savings gained by releasing or trading Edelman outweigh the benefit of having him back next year, when he will be 35 years old.

So what are the odds that Edelman is playing next season, and will it be in Foxborough? Let’s take a look at what could happen with the fan favorite this offseason.

Retirement

In 2019, Edelman dealt with several injuries, including a separated AC joint in his left shoulder, an injury to his left knee, and a rib injury. Despite that, Edelman was able to catch 100 passes in the 2019 season, and finished with a career-high 1,117 receiving yards, as well as six receiving touchdowns.

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Edelman was not able to outlast the injury bug this year however, and no one could blame him if the pounding he has taken is enough for him to want to call it a career, rather than have another season take a further toll on his body.

After going down with a knee injury in Week 6 and undergoing surgery, Edelman was placed on injured reserve, and despite being designated to return from IR, Edelman could not work his way back onto the field in time before the season concluded.

Keep in mind, Edelman has only played all 16 games in a season just three times in his career. The odds of him somehow becoming more durable as he gets older are…very slim. His body is breaking down, and there isn’t much tread left on his tires.

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Certainly, he has very little left to prove on the field. In 12 years in New England, Edelman has amassed 620 receptions, 36 touchdowns, and 6,822 yards receiving. And that’s not to mention his postseason accomplishments, which include three Super Bowl titles and one Super Bowl MVP award. His place in the Patriots’ dynasty is more than secure.

Returning to the Patriots

Given how depleted the Patriots are at the wide receiver position, there is still a place for Edelman on this team next year, even if he is 60 percent of the receiver he once was.

Don’t believe me? Here’s who the team has signed at the wide receiver position for the 2021 season currently: Edelman, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Donte Moncrief, Gunner Olszewski, Marqise Lee, Isaiah Zuber, and Kristian Wilkerson.

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Even if New England signs a big-name free agent this offseason at the position, it still lacks depth at the position. Edelman may not be the same player he once was, but he brings great leadership and experience to the team, at an affordable price too.

According to Miguel Benzan of PatsCap, Edelman has a cap hit of less than $6.2 million next season, which is palatable for someone of his talent level, even if that talent is diminishing.

Edelman could be kept around in 2021, and could serve as a mentor to Meyers, who showed real promise this season, and could be the team’s slot wideout of the future.

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For his part, Edelman seemed to hint at a return in New England in 2021, in a recent Instagram post.

Trade/Release

The most painful option here for Patriots fans would be trading or releasing Edelman. The team could decide that it would rather take the $2.7 million gained in cap space by trading or releasing Edelman, rather than carry a 35-year-old wide receiver on its roster in what will most likely be another rebuilding season.

If Edelman wants to continue playing, the team could do him a solid and release him in the summer, which would allow him to choose his next destination.

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But the team could also choose to recoup some value in a trade, although it’s not likely there would be much demand for an aging wide receiver with an injury history as lengthy as Edelman’s.

Maybe a certain former Patriots quarterback now playing down in Florida would want another go at a Super Bowl title with his favorite slot receiver. It can’t be ruled out, if Edelman believes he is healthy enough to play in 2021.

So, which one will it be?

It’s always hard to get a read on what Bill Belichick is thinking.

Certainly, the head coach has an enormous amount of respect for Edelman, and what he has brought to the team. That Belichick, who tends to part ways with players a year too early rather than a year too late, has held onto Edelman is proof positive of his affection for the gritty wideout.

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While it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team trade or release Edelman to give him one last shot at a Super Bowl title, if that’s what he wants, Edelman can still play a valuable role on next year’s team, and with one year remaining on his contract at only $6.2 million, he won’t take up too much cap space. The guess here is that he remains in New England for one last year, and likely retires after that, ahead of his age-36 season.

Whoever starts at quarterback next year for New England will need pass-catchers that he can trust to get open, and that’s what Edelman can do, when healthy. While Edelman will need to be kept on a pitch count, likely for the rest of his career, he can still give a boost to what has been an anemic receiving corps the last couple of seasons.

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