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Julian Edelman’s football journey was documented in the latest version of NFL Network’s “A Football Life” on Friday.
The documentary covered Edelman’s path to the NFL, his early struggles with the Patriots, and his eventual rise to becoming a Super Bowl MVP. It also showcased some of his personal struggles as he dealt with a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and his decision to retire from playing.
Here are 10 things we learned from the documentary.
Edelman was never viewed as the most physically gifted athlete, even in high school, where most future NFL players are notably different in size.
In fact, Edelman wasn’t even 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds when he entered high school in Woodside, California.
“When I turned 13, that’s when guys’ voices started to get a little lower and guys were getting little hairy armpits and stuff. I was still just a little kid,” Edelman said. “I just remember, I would go into my parents’ room, crying, ‘When am I going to grow?’ Because like, I was a stud. I was still a stud, but it was so hard.”
Edelman’s small frame led to an unusual situation when he was named Woodside High School’s starting quarterback his sophomore season. He recalled that he was “5-foot-1 or something” when that happened, and Edelman’s high school coach joked that “All you saw was a head, but the kid could throw.”
Despite being smaller than many players he played with and against, Edelman “felt like I was the best player on the field.”
“I knew football, so it gave me an opportunity to play undersized,” Edelman said.
Despite that, Edelman struggled to garner attention from Division I schools as a recruit. He spent a year at the College of San Mateo, a junior college, before transferring to Kent State, which Edelman originally that was in Kentucky because of its initals, “KSU.”
Edelman remained at quarterback during his time at Kent State, but his 5-foot-10 frame made it tough for teams to see him as a future NFL quarterback.
Bill Belichick didn’t see any quarterback talent when he initially scouted Edelman, either. But he saw some other things Edelman could do.
“He couldn’t throw the ball but he was hard to tackle and very competitive and very tough,” Belichick said.
During the draft process, Edelman wasn’t exactly sure where he would play during his NFL career. He impressed though at his pro day, running a 3.89 short shuttle that was so quick that the scouts in attendance couldn’t believe it, so they made Edelman do it again. He posted the same exact time, which was the fastest among all prospects in the 2009 NFL Draft class.
Edelman was still on the board at the end of the draft that year, leading the Patriots to take him in the seventh round.
“When you’re down there at the end of the draft, you’re looking for guys that have traits, maybe more so than elite talent,” Belichick said.
Edelman recalled that Belichick told him “I don’t know what you can play, but you can play football. See you at rookie minicamp” during his draft call with him.
As a seventh-round pick with no defined position, Edelman knew he was going to have to try out playing several different positions to help better his chances at making the roster.
One of those positions was as a punt returner, where Edelman had never played before. On his first day of rookie minicamp, he got into trouble with Belichick when returning punts.
“My first interaction with Bill, I was catching punts. And I was nervous catching punts, I had never really caught punts,” Edelman said. “I might have muffed or double-caught a punt and Bill comes over and he’s whipping his whistle and said, “Hey Jules, come here. If the ball doesn’t turn over, it’s going to go short and right on a right-footed punter. If it turns over, it’s going to go left and long. Read the punt. You catch the punt with your feet, not your hands.”
“That’s what he said. That was our first interaction. It was love at first sight.”
Edelman grew a lot as a punt returner because in the Patriots’ first preseason game that season, he returned a punt for a touchdown against the Eagles. Even though he was buried on the depth chart as a wide receiver behind Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and others, Belichick wanted to find a way to keep Edelman on the roster.
“He was a really developmental player that once we got him, I would say developed pretty quickly as a prospect and one we didn’t want to lose or put on the practice squad,” Belichick said. “He was better than that. So we rostered him and he had a pretty productive rookie year.”
Edelman wanted to find a way to get reps with the starts on offense, but as someone that was still learning to play receiver, he struggled to get on the field much in that regard.
Brady recalled that Edelman was talented with the ball in his hands in the first few seasons of his career. The one struggle he had was getting the ball to Edelman.
So, Edelman found an unconventional way to try and fix that.
“We all knew that Tom was a perfectionist and demanded a lot and we warned Julian of that ahead of time,” agent Steve Dubin said. “Tom spent a lot of offseasons in Los Angeles and Julian would always just follow him around. Not hanging out with him, but just in the chance Tom would call and say ‘Hey, do you want to throw?'”
“If Tom asked Julian to be on the moon with two footballs, Julian would be there whenever Tom said,” Ben Rawitz, Tom Brady’s manager, added.
Edelman said that he “just wanted to be in an environment and wanted to let him know I was available at all times.”
Edelman’s chances of remaining and playing a big role with the Patriots seemed to dim with each passing day in his early seasons in New England. After recording 37 receptions as a rookie, he caught just 32 total passes in the net three season.
“Julian Edelman was probably almost cut more often than any player I’ve ever coached,” former Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea recalled.
Edelman felt similarly.
“I thought I was maybe getting cut until my fourth year,” Edelman said.
While Edelman didn’t see the field much during that time, Belichick had a reasonable explanation as to why.
“Nobody was looking to get Wes off the field and how many slot receivers can you play? Julian was still developing as a wide receiver,” Belichick said.
So, Belichick challenged Edelman.
“I remember Bill bringing me into his office in 2011 and him saying, ‘Hey, you’re in a crossroads in your career,” Edelman said. “I always knew I was on eggshells.”
That led to Edelman taking on even more duties. In 2011, he played cornerback.
When Welker departed for the Denver Broncos in the 2013 offseason, Edelman thought he was finally going to get his chance to start at slot receiver. However, the Patriots signed Amendola to a five-year deal to replace Welker.
That upset Edelman.
“I was hurt,” Edelman said. “I did everything [Belichick] said, gave four years of my life, and then [the Patriots signed Amendola]. I’m not going to lie, I was pissed off. I was like, ‘Dude, you’re coming to take my keys to the Cadillac? Dog, what’s going on? I’m over here on a minimum deal. This guy’s getting $34 [million]?’”
Edelman took a meeting with the Giants and nearly accepted the contract they offered him.
“Looking back on it, I had nothing,” Edelman said. “I [had done] nothing in the league. But as a kid, as a young guy, experiencing that for the first time, I was like, ‘[Expletive] Belichick. [Expletive] the Patriots. I hate everyone here. How are you going to do this to me?’ I took a visit to the New York Giants, and they offered me a contract.”
He ended up having an emotional moment with Brady when the two were out in Los Angeles and, of course, he remained in New England.
“I know how hard it is for receivers to gain the trust of Tom Brady, and we had a connection,” Edelman said of his decision to stay. “If I’m going to go out and sign a one-year deal, do I want to go sign a one-year deal with a completely new team that knows nothing about me? I ultimately decided to sign a one-year deal with the Patriots. I think it was league minimum with incentives. So I signed that out in 2013 and went into the year.”
In the documentary, Edelman shared that his father, Frank, is Jewish but the early passing of his grandfather led Frank to be raised as Catholic growing up.
As Edelman’s NFL career progress though, he and his father began to embrace Judiasm more and more. In 2015, he met Rabbi Bill Hamilton and he and his father began to have weekly sessions with him.
Edelman took a trip to Jerusalem in 2015, visiting the Holocaust museum where something dawned upon him.
“Rabbi Barry brought me a list of all the Edelmans that were murdered in the Holocaust,” Edelman said. “That’s when you’re sitting there and think, ‘That could be a relative of mine.'”
Edelman also finds some similar things with the religion to his own personal story.
“There were so many parallels to the story of the Jews to just my journey in life,” Edelman said. “You know, the underdog that’s always having to overcome some adverse situation. Not really sniveling, just working your way out of it.”
Edelman tore his ACL during the preseason in 2017, ending that year before it really even began. He progressed well enough though over the next year and was ready to hit the ground running in 2018, until he was suspended for the first four games of that season due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Edelman said that it felt like the “football gods broke my neck” in that moment. He also got into a fight about it with his father, though not over his usage of performance-enhancers.
“He was disappointed,” Edelman said. “He was mad, he was mad that I was challenging. We got into a fight.”
“We didn’t talk to each other for about three months,” Frank Edelman said. “We knew you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. So, I wasn’t upset that whatever he did occurred. I didn’t really care. Where him and I got into a fight was with the lawyer issues. He didn’t want dad a part of that. He wanted his lawyers. He wanted to fight it.”
However, the two made up and when Edelman couldn’t be present at New England’s facilities due to the suspension, he worked out with his father.
“Right when he came back, he wanted pops there,” Frank Edelman said.
Edelman’s final season was his worst since the years he struggled to get on the field. He played just six games in 2020, recording 39 receptions for 315 yards.
“It was a mess. Not fun to watch,” Edelman’s mother, Angie, said.
As Edelman dealt with a lingering knee injury that season, he had a good feeling it was time to call it a career.
“I knew it was time to retire when I couldn’t practice the way I wanted to, when I couldn’t walk until Thursday after a game,” Edelman said. “Football is not fun when you’re in a lot of pain. A little pain is cool. A lot of pain and when you can’t explode and do the things you’ve been so accustomed to doing your entire life – I just didn’t like it.”
Edelman’s father recalled the moment he told him that he was retiring.
“The injuries were not allowing him to be who he is,” Frank Edelman said. “He called me up and I knew. We were talking about it and I said, ‘Bud, it’s time to hang ’em up. He was waiting for dad [tears up] to give him the approval. He wanted to be OK for pops.”
Despite the injury struggles in his final season, Edelman didn’t rule out a possible return at the end of the documentary.
“When’s this thing airing? This November? I’m going to have to go part two on this bad – nah, I don’t know,” Edelman said. “But there’s about 12 plays a game I guarantee I can get open and catch a ball right now, because we all know football season starts after Thanksgiving.”
Edelman, now 36, is a free agent so he could sign wherever and whenever he likes. But he’s also begun his post-playing career, working as a panelist on the long-running show “Inside the NFL.”
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