With a knee injury having bothered him for most of the last two seasons, and now forcing him to miss a physical, Julian Edelman’s career with the New England Patriots is over. The club officially released the 34-year-old on Monday, ending an 11-year run that saw him grow from draft day afterthought to integral member of the Patriots’ offense.
A lot will be said and written about Edelman in the coming days and weeks — especially if he also announces his retirement, as certainly seems possible — but for now let’s do a quick-hit breakdown: What does Edelman’s release man for the Patriots?
One of the greatest stories in Patriots history has ended
Edelman joined the Patriots as the 232nd selection of the 2009 draft after having played quarterback at Kent State. New England, however, had a different role in mind and turned him into a wide receiver and kick returner. The move paid off big time.
While he played a comparatively specialized role during his first four seasons with the club, and made his biggest impact in the kicking game, he developed into Tom Brady’s go-to pass catcher in 2013. With Wes Welker gone and Danny Amendola dealing with an injury, Edelman took over the number one role and never looked back. Over the seasons that followed he played a pivotal role in helping the organization win three Super Bowls — including Super Bowl 53 that saw him take home MVP honors.
Along the way, Edelman was voted to the Patriots’ Team of the 2010s and became the franchise’s playoff receiving leader. Not bad for a former positionless seventh-round draft choice.
The Patriots’ most experienced wide receiver is gone…
While core special teamer Matthew Slater is listed as a wide receiver as well, Julian Edelman was the elder statesman of New England’s wide receiver room until today. He was the most experienced and productive member of the group, as well as a perfect embodiment of what the so-called Patriot Way stands for: Edelman was the prototypical “do your job” wide receiver.
With him gone, a giant void will have to be filled not just on the field but in the locker room as well. Just look at it this way: with Edelman gone and Slater more special teamer than true wideout, 2019 first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry is now the longest tenured member of the position group.
…while the WR1 role is wide open
Since emerging in 2013, Edelman was New England’s best, most consistent and most productive wide receiver. He routinely served as a safety blanket for the Patriots’ quarterbacks — primarily Tom Brady and later Cam Newton — and was as good against man coverage as any skill position player on the team’s roster. Despite not looking like your typical WR1, Edelman was just that.
New England now needs to replace this role. It remains to be seen who fills it, but the team does have some candidates. Jakobi Meyers showed some solid connection with Newton during the 2020 season and finished as the Patriots’ leader in both receptions and yards. He seems to be the frontrunner at the moment based on his track record within the system.
Besides Meyers, free agency acquisition Kendrick Bourne appears to have a realistic shot at taking over the go-to-guy role among the wideouts. A well-rounded receiver who has shown that he can get open quickly and work the short and intermediate areas of the field, Bourne also will likely see plenty of opportunities to take over Edelman’s previous role.
Of course, replacing a player of this caliber one-for-one is a near-impossible task. It will take the whole wide receiver and tight end groups to get the job done.
New England will gain $2.7 million in cap space
Nearly every NFL transaction also has an impact on a team’s salary cap, and Edelman’s release is no different. The move will create roughly $2.66 million in additional cap space for the Patriots to bring the total to $15.24 million, per Miguel Benzan. In the meantime, New England will take on a dead money charge of $2.67 million.
As for Edelman’s deal being terminated at this point in time, he is now eligible for the league’s injury protection benefit. This could pay him up to $2 million in September, with $1.2 million counting against New England’s cap and an additional $800,000 coming his way as a benefit payment.