When the New England Patriots’ offense has taken the field in each game this season, one usual mainstay has been conspicuously absent.
No, we’re not talking about Tom Brady. We’re talking about his former top target, Julian Edelman.
Edelman, the Patriots’ No. 1 wide receiver since 2013, has seen his playing time decrease dramatically in 2020.
Through four games, he’s been on the field for 68.2 percent of New England’s offensive snaps, down from 87.4 percent in 2019. N’Keal Harry has played 76.8 percent. Damiere Byrd has played 91.8 percent.
So, in terms of playing time, Edelman has been the Patriots’ No. 3 receiver thus far. He has yet to start a game this season.
Why the drop? As offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained Friday, it’s the Patriots’ way of ensuring the 34-year-old is available come December and January.
“We’re just trying to — it’s a long season, obviously,” McDaniels said in a video conference. “There’s obviously certain games where Julian plays a really large number of snaps, and then there’s some other situations where we can kind of give him a rest and get him out of some of those other scenarios that maybe he’s been in in the past but probably doesn’t have to do as much of that stuff at this point in his career.
“Certainly, when you’ve got players (like) that, you just want to make sure you manage them and be smart, handle them the right way. He does a great job of communicating that.”
A knee injury has limited Edelman in all but one Patriots practice this season. He also missed time during training camp after undergoing multiple offseason surgeries and has shown an uncharacteristic aversion to contact at times.
“We try to do a good job during the course of a week of practice of doing the right things and being smart about what we’re asking him to do during the course of games so he can be the most productive he can be,” McDaniels said. “Obviously, he’s a big part of what we do and we want to try to make sure we can sustain that throughout the course of a long season.”
Edelman leads the Patriots in receiving yards with 294 and is tied with Harry for the team lead in catches with 18. But much of that production came in Week 2, when he posted a career-high 179 yards on eight catches in a narrow loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
“(I) let my team down a little bit last week, and I’m looking forward this week to go out and try and help them,” Edelman said Friday on WEEI’s “Greg Hill Show.”
The Patriots are scheduled to host the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Edelman is listed as questionable.