Patriots Mailbag: Could Julian Edelman Really Unretire, Rejoin Pats?

Plus: A cautionary tale for Tre Nixon believers

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Looking to avoid the day-after take vortex produced by the Boston Celtics’ sloppy, mistake-strewn, season-ending loss in Game 6 of the NBA Finals? You’ve come to the right place.

Let’s dive right into your New England Patriots questions:

@JosephBuqueNFL
Can we get a WAY too early 53-man depth chart prediction?
Yes, you can! It’s right here.

@Grubtownhero
Where is tre Nixon finishing in this WR depth chart? What are your thoughts
Nixon was awesome in minicamp, no doubt. In my view, he was the second-most impressive player on the field behind quarterback Mac Jones. His odds of snagging a roster spot undoubtedly are higher than they were two weeks ago.

But for those already envisioning how the 2021 seventh-rounder will look on Sundays, I caution you to remember Maurice Harris. Here’s what we wrote about Harris during the Patriots’ 2019 minicamp:

And now Harris is running with the starters in minicamp and making the most of his opportunities. Harris leads the Patriots in team-drill receptions with 11 through two days of minicamp. He’s second on the team with six receptions in 11-on-11 drills. He also leads the Patriots with seven catches in team drills from Tom Brady through two practices. … He’s also been taking reps as a punt returner, which can only help his chances of making the team.

Replace Brady’s name with Jones’, and we easily could have been talking about Nixon there. He caught all 10 of his minicamp targets, repped with the starters, showed a strong connection with the starting QB, and returned (and also covered) punts.

I watched Harris in those minicamp practices and remember believing, naively, that there was no way the Patriots could keep him off their 53-man roster. Then he dropped a touchdown in New England’s preseason opener in Detroit, got hurt a week later and essentially was never heard from again.

That doesn’t mean Nixon, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, can’t make a surprise run at a roster spot. But I’d wait to pencil him in until we see how he looks in training camp and the preseason. It’s one thing to flash in two non-padded practices; it’s another to maintain that momentum over the course of a full NFL summer.

My first, way-too-early 53-man roster projection had Nixon on the wrong side of the cutline, losing out to veterans DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and Ty Montgomery and second-round rookie Tyquan Thornton.

@skimaine
what would have to happen with cap space/cuts if Edelman said he wants to come back (and makes the roster). Would he have an impact?
Julian Edelman made headlines this week when he left the door open for a potential NFL return, but I still don’t think we’ll ever see him on a football field again. His knees were shot when he retired last April, and some of those issues — like his bone-on-bone condition — don’t heal with time and rest.

Edelman also said after retiring that he didn’t want to keep playing if he couldn’t perform at the level he was accustomed to.

“I don’t want to have that,” he said in a 2021 “Pardon My Take” interview. “I don’t want to look like that. I respect the game too much; it’s been too good to me. So it’s one of those things where if I can’t go out there and be the player that I know I am in this league and that I’ve been for a consistent period of time, you know, I have no problem walking away because I enjoyed the time that I did have in this league.”

Edelman looked like a shell of himself during his injury-shortened 2020 season, and he’s now 36, older than all but three players on the Patriots’ current roster: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater and Brian Hoyer. If he decides he wants to give it another shot (and not do so with Tom Brady in Tampa), I could see Bill Belichick giving him an opportunity out of respect for all the wideout has done for the franchise. But expecting him to look anything like the Edelman of old seems like wishful thinking.

As for the salary cap implications, Edelman was a free agent when he retired, so he’s free to sign for any amount that he and the team agree upon. The Patriots currently have almost zero available cap space, however. They entered Friday with less than $150,000 of it, per cap expert Miguel Benzan, not even enough to finish signing their draft class.

So, moves must be made regardless. Cap space can be created through cuts, trades, extensions or restructures, and I expect we’ll see a combination of those in the months before Week 1.

NESN 360 cta

@Nick_11_04
Thoughts on the future of the rb room?
It could look very different in 2023, if not earlier.

Lead back Damien Harris is entering a contract year, and the Patriots seemed to be prepping for his eventual departure by drafting Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris. If both rookies impress this summer, New England could even consider trading Harris, who might command more on the open market next spring than they’d be willing to pay.

There also are big questions about James White’s status. He was present at both minicamp practices last week but limited, sitting out all competitive drills as he continues his comeback from season-ending hip surgery. At 30 years old, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the same player after such a significant injury, nor that he’ll be ready to go in time for the season.

If White starts on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots will look to some combination of Strong, J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson to fill his passing-down role.

Taylor saw the most run in that role in minicamp after joining Mac Jones and Patriots wideouts for offseason throwing sessions. Stevenson caught 14 passes for 123 yards in 12 games as a rookie and made improving his route-running a point of emphasis ahead of Year 2. The speedy Strong has been viewed as a potential long-term White replacement, earning praise for his pass protection chops.

@HubPatriots
What?s the current WR hierarchy? I?m guessing it will end up being: 1: Parker 2: Bourne 3 (slot): Meters 4: Thornton 5: aghalor
I agree with those top three, but I’d flip Nelson Agholor and Tyquan Thornton. Maybe he’ll surprise me, but I’m not expecting a huge rookie season for Thornton, and there’s reason to believe Agholor will improve in his second year in the Patriots’ newly “streamlined” offense.

If he does and Parker stays healthy, that’s not a bad top four. Far from elite, but better than what the Patriots have fielded in the last several seasons.

@PatsDynasty12
Is McGrone going to be a starter? Pats need more speed at LB.
A lot can change between now and Week 1, but as it stands after spring practice, Raekwon McMillan looks like the favorite to start at inside linebacker alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley. Cameron McGrone, the untested 2021 fifth-round draft pick who’s garnered rave reviews from coaches, mostly repped with the second team in OTAs and minicamp.

We’ll see how McGrone progresses in training camp, though. I expect him, McMillan and Mack Wilson all to be in the mix for that second starting spot. Safeties Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers also can play linebacker-type roles, so the Patriots will have a lot of options at the second level.

@jonothorpejazz
What is your favourite drill to watch in training camp?
Has to be the receiver/defensive back 1-on-1s, especially in joint practices where the aggressiveness tends to be ratcheted up a bit.

In the full-team category, the got-to-have-it goal line periods are always fun. Bill Belichick likes to dial up those during the first padded practices. The split-squad scrimmages are entertaining, too. I’ll always remember Tom Brady going a perfect 25-for-25 against Team Garoppolo during the leadup to his Deflategate suspension.

The O-line/D-line 1-on-1s are battles, but the Patriots tend to stage those on the far side of the practice field, making it difficult for fans and media members to watch closely.

@QuintusFabius
When’s the next time they’ll be practicing
Patriots players are off until training camp, which begins Wednesday, July 27. They’ll practice Wednesday through Sunday that week, with all camp practices open to the public and free of charge.

The NESN.com Patriots mailbag is taking its annual hiatus until then, as well. Enjoy the summer, everyone. Talk to you all in …

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