He didn’t know it at the time, but Julian Edelman’s 2020 season essentially ended on Halloween.
That’s the day the New England Patriots wide receiver landed on injured reserve following a surgical procedure aimed at repairing his banged-up knee.
Edelman made it back to the practice field in mid-December but was sidelined again one week later, a return to the active roster proving elusive. Head coach Bill Belichick confirmed Friday that Edelman would not suit up for Sunday’s Week 17 matchup against the New York Jets, officially ending his season.
It was a disappointing season for Edelman, who appeared in a career-low six games in Year 1 of the post-Tom Brady era and was visibly limited in at least four of them. After exploding for 179 yards on eight catches in a Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he totaled just eight receptions on 21 targets for 79 yards over his final four outings.
But while the former 1,000-yard receiver contributed little on the field in 2020, he remained a valuable resource behind the scenes as the Patriots navigated their first losing season since 2000.
This week, a pair of young, undrafted players from both sides of the ball — second-year wideout Jakobi Meyers and rookie defensive back Myles Bryant — described how Edelman’s insight and influence have helped them improve their games
“He’s been a consistent voice,” Meyers said Friday in a video conference. “It’s easy to have something going wrong with you and then just mentally check out from the game or check out from the team, check out from the season in general.
“But Jules has been the ultimate vet. He comes in every day and he does his job, but at the same time, he still gives us little words of wisdom about what he sees on film or what he’s seen in his career that could probably help us.”
What kind of wisdom? Meyers, who eventually took over Edelman’s mantle as New England’s top pass-catcher this season, wouldn’t divulge specifics.
“I don’t really want to take our conversations public or anything like that,” he said. “But he’s definitely put some gems in my ear that I’m definitely going to hold on to for as long as I can remember.”
Meyers spoke in greater detail about those gems after New England’s Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans.
At the time, opponents were beginning to gear their coverage toward stopping Meyers — he’d broken out with a 12-catch, 169-yard performance two weeks earlier — and Edelman was helping him adjust to his newfound offensive prominence.
?Every day, Jules comes in, and if he sees something, he?s going to automatically tell me,? Meyers said in late November. ?So we?ll watch film, if he sees me do a little route detail — like today, we were talking about one of my releases in the (Texans) game. He was like, ?All right, now that you did this on tape, how can (you) counterbalance that or what can (you) do next time??
“So he?s definitely been an ultimate vet for me and just helping me with little things to better myself and helping the offense. … Having Jules in the room, a guy who?s already been through it, it?s definitely something that I can benefit off of.”
Bryant recalled clashing with Edelman in training camp last summer — encounters that quickly introduced him to the speed of the NFL game.
?My first week here, guarding Jules in the slot,” the undersized DB said Wednesday. “You see people on TV, they talk about how good of a slot (receiver) he is, you see people on social media talking about how good of a receiver he is, how good his routes are, but I?m the kind of person where you?re going to have to show me. You?re going to have to show me how good you could be.
“That first week, he showed me how good he was, and he let me know. If he caught a ball on me, he would just do this stare at me. It would be, like, an awkward stare, and I was like, ?What is this guy looking at?? But it was just the way he competes. And then as we go through camp, I started figuring stuff out and figuring out how to play him, and for me, that was growth, just trying to go out there and make plays on him. I knew if I could make plays on him, then I could really make plays on any slot receiver in the league.”
Bryant didn’t play his first NFL snap until Week 8, but he became a versatile regular in New England’s third-down package in November and December and could be in line for an even larger role in 2021.
“It?s a big credit to Jules just going out there and pretty much bringing his best every day,” Bryant said. “You see him out there in practice, he?s pushing guys. Whether it be verbally or physically, he?s pushing guys to get better. I?m one of those guys that he pushed to get better. ? Each day, you?ve got to bring it, or you?re going to get embarrassed out there.”
Those practice battles ceased once Edelman was placed on IR, but Bryant hasn’t stopped learning from the veteran wideout.
?(Edelman) actually gave me a good piece of advice a couple days ago,” Bryant said as he prepared for the final game of his rookie season. “Really, (he said) it?s just trying to put an impression on everybody every time you step in the building. So for me, that?s just coming in early, working hard in the film room, working hard in the meeting room and then going out there and working hard in practice.
“So personally, I?ve been taking every day that I?ve stepped into this building as a day to audition, a day to go out there and show what I can. The game is really just a celebration of how hard we work.”
That same attitude helped Edelman transform from a seventh-round converted quarterback into a franchise icon and one of the best postseason receivers in NFL history. His place in Patriots lore was secured years ago.
Whether Edelman will be with the team next season, though, is far from certain. He has one year remaining on his current contract, but at his age (35 in May) and with his injury history, there’s a chance he’s played his final game in a Patriots uniform.