By: Steve Balestrieri
Everything bounced Julian Edelman’s way (for a change) in 2013. And now he puts the Patriots in a familiar dilemma on whether or not to re-sign a productive slot receiver. The oft-injured WR/PR finally was able to stay healthy for an entire season and with former Patriots receiver Wes Welker in Denver, and his replacement Danny Amendola banged up Edelman thrived.
The 27 year old college quarterback turned wide receiver had a career year in 2013 catching 105 passes for 1056 yards and 6 touchdowns and was quarterback Tom Brady’s most reliable option all season. As we wrote back in June, the cards were aligned perfectly for Edelman to carve out a niche for himself and he certainly did.
With Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead all gone and Rob Gronkowski injured, Edelman was the best option for Brady as Amendola was catching on to a new system and Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins were all rookies.
Edelman in the off-season last year was a free agent but had no takers, only getting tepid interest from the Giants and only as a punt returner. The Patriots gave him a minimum salary offer with bonus incentives that pushed his 2013 salary to just over $1 million dollars, a bargain for a WR with over 100 catches.
Questions about value: As everyone who follows the Patriots are well aware, the team doesn’t value WRs especially those who work out of the slot as particularly valuable. Watching the dance unfold between Welker and the team the past few years is evidence of that.
The situation gets a little murkier with the fact that the team signed slot receiver Amendola to a 5 year contract in 2013 to the tune of $31 million that is guaranteed only through 2014. Amendola played most of his snaps out of the slot; Edelman however played just over 50 percent of his snaps outside.
Both are most valuable and best suited in the slot and are very similar in terms of size, ability and the way they’re utilized. So will the Patriots pony up the cash for a short term contract for Edelman and make a decision on keeping the often injured Amendola until 2015?
Edelman had a career year with 105 catches in 2013.
(USA TODAY Images)
Reasons for keeping #11 here: The Patriots know what they have in Edelman; they experimented with giving him the Welker role early in 2012 before he went down with an injury. He has the experience and trust of Brady and has even rented an apt in California in the off-season so the two can work on chemistry and timing. And now he’s proven he can produce in the New England system with 105 catches in 2013.
With the myriad of injuries suffered by the Patriots receivers this season, Gronkowski, missed the first six games and then went on IR, Amendola essentially playing on one leg with a torn groin, Dobson with two foot injuries, Vereen on IR-Return, Thompkins with hip and concussion issues and Boyce also on IR, it was Edelman who was the go-to guy all year and especially down the stretch. In the last eight games of the season including the playoffs, Edelman was the most targeted receiver in seven of those games.
Edleman remains one of the better punt returners in the league with a career average of 12.3 YPR, good for seventh all-time in the NFL and tops among active players. That is one area of his game where he has always been very productive.
And unlike Welker, Edelman at 27 has much few miles on his treads not to mention the multiple concussions that Welker has suffered at this stage of his career.
Reasons #11 may go: The Patriots are doubtful to cut ties with Amendola after only one season so they’ll at least play out the string this year and see if he can produce the way they expected (and Edelman did) or if he can stay healthy next year.
The team got good production from Dobson and Thompkins as rookies with 519 and 466 yards receiving respectively. Remember in 2002, Deion Branch as a rookie had 489 yards receiving.
But the team may opt to go with Amendola, and rightfully expect a big second year jump from Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce. And waiting in the wings is another smaller, slot receiver, T.J. Moe whom the team signed in 2013 but went on IR prior to training camp.
The Patriots’ cap situation is still up in the air with the Hernandez dead money and they may not have the cash to pay for two players of the same skill set, hence the “Edelmandola” cracks all season.
And unlike 2013, there may be suitors waiting in the wings for Edelman this year. Former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, now the Texans head coach, certainly could use Edelman inside doing the dirty work with big target Andre Johnson lined up outside. And new Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, a former Patriots director of pro player personnel, may have some interest. Again, with a young QB, and a proven outside threat in Vincent Jackson, Edelman could provide a viable safety valve inside, while giving the STs a boost in the PR game.
Bottom Line: It is in the Patriots best interests to try to work something out with Edelman to keep him in a Patriots uniform in 2014. While he isn’t a #1 WR and isn’t going to command the attention of defensive coordinators as “the guy” to shut down, his value to this team can’t be understated.
And there is the rub; he may be more valuable to the Patriots and Brady as his most trusted receiver than he would be anywhere else. And we’ve seen that other teams aren’t going to over-pay for a guy that plays out of the slot.
But there are scenarios where that could change in 2014 and Edelman could thrive in one of those two previously mentioned environments. While the Patriots should make every effort to bring him back, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Edelman in a different uniform in 2014.