New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, nursing a painful knee injury that won’t subside, has made the difficult decision to retire.
Edelman has been leaning toward retirement for weeks. The Patriots terminated his contract Monday as a precursor to the announcement.
Edelman played just six games in 2020 before undergoing a knee procedure with hopes that he could return later in the season. The wide receiver was designated to return and practiced with the Patriots but never made it back on the game field.
Edelman trained and rehabbed this offseason, but his knee didn’t respond as he had hoped. He notably skipped offseason workouts with Patriots quarterbacks Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham in his home state of California last month.
The 34-year-old finishes an improbable 11-year NFL career with 620 catches for 6,822 yards with 36 touchdowns, 58 rushing attempts for 413 yards, 177 punt returns for 1,986 yards and four touchdowns, 30 kick returns for 626 yards and six completions on six passing attempts for 128 yards with a touchdown and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. And let’s not forget about the 21 career tackles and two QB hits from his time in 2011 as a part-time slot cornerback.
He was unbelievable in the postseason. In 19 games, with 15 starts, he caught 118 passes for 1,422 yards with five touchdowns, carried the ball 11 times for 81 yards with a touchdown, returned 39 punts for 443 yards and return four kicks for 83 yards. He completed 1-of-2 passes for 51 yards with a touchdown. Edelman ranks second to only Jerry Rice, the wide receiver he grew up idolizing as a San Francisco 49ers fan, in postseason receptions and yards.
Edelman actually has an outside shot of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest playoff performers in NFL history. Hall of Fame candidacy primarily is based on regular-season accomplishments, and Edelman never made a Pro Bowl or was named to an All-Pro team. But shouldn?t postseason accomplishments count more heavily in the grand scheme of things? Edelman helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls and even earned Super Bowl LIII MVP for a standout performance in New England’s championship win over the Los Angeles Rams, when he caught 10 passes for 141 yards.
In Super Bowl XLIX, Edelman caught nine passes for 109 yards with a touchdown. In Super Bowl LI, he caught five passes for 87 yards, including THE catch that he unbelievably snatched millimeters from the ground before hitting the turf in the midst of New England?s comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons. He played just seven offensive snaps in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLVI loss to the New York Giants. He missed Super Bowl LII, and the 2017 season, with a torn ACL.
Edelman and the Patriots were always a match made in heaven.
The undersized college quarterback from Kent State wouldn’t necessarily have cut it on any NFL team. But with the Patriots, who exercised the necessary patience and creativity to let Edelman flourish, turned the converted wide receiver into a postseason legend.
The 5-foot-10, 198-pound college QB first caught Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s eye in a game Edelman probably would like to forget. As a junior against No. 3-ranked Ohio State, Edelman completed 4-of-10 passing attempts for 49 yards with an interception and rushed eight times for a loss of 7 yards. But he wouldn’t quit in the 48-3 loss in front of 105,051 fans at the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio, and that impressed Belichick. Against all odds, Edelman wound up having a better NFL career than any other pass-catcher or quarterback on the field that day. He outproduced Beanie Wells, Todd Boeckman, Brian Hartline, Brian Robiskie, Dan Sanzenbacher, Jake Ballard and Brandon Saine — then household names in the Big 10.
And it didn’t come easy for Edelman. He flashed as a rookie in an offense that included Randy Moss and Wes Welker but took a backseat after the Patriots drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and brought back Deion Branch in 2010. He primarily served as a punt returner from 2010 to 2012 before a breakout 2013 campaign that started his run as quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target for the next seven seasons.
He became a fan favorite for his combination of clutch performances, sense of humor and toughness. The sprints out of the Patriots’ locker room, the playoff beard and the trash talk all will be missed in New England.
The Patriots made a concerted effort to improve the wide receiver corps in free agency by adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to a depth chart that already included Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski, Kristian Wilkerson, Isaiah Zuber and Devin Smith, but Edelman’s absence still will be felt in 2021.
There was a thought that Edelman could return to the Patriots as a part-time player, but the knee injury became too difficult to manage despite the procedure and training and rehab that followed.