The New England Patriots will lose yet another instrumental piece of their franchise for the 2021 season.
Julian Edelman, the former seventh round draft pick who became the Patriots’ go-to receiver over the past decade, is calling it a career after New England released the 12-year veteran following a failed physical.
The 34-year-old announced his retirement a little over an hour after the Patriots released him, taking to Twitter to make the announcement.
The former Super Bowl LII MVP dealt with nagging injuries during the 2020 season that eventually resulted in a knee procedure. He played in just six games and registered just 21 catches for 315 yards and zero touchdowns — his worst single-season totals since 2012 — before he emerged as a starting receiver for the Patriots.
Edelman was a member of three Super Bowl-winning teams for the Patriots. Following Wes Welker’s departure during the 2013 offseason, Edelman became Tom Brady’s favorite target during the remainder of his tenure in New England.
The diminutive receiver posted three 1,000-yard seasons — including four different seasons in which he caught at least 92 balls.
But he made his important contributions during the postseason. In 19 games, Edelman caught 118 passes for 1,422 yards and five touchdowns. His receptions and receiving yards rank second in NFL postseason history, only behind Jerry Rice.
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While we could go on and on regarding Edelman’s accomplishments, his release and retirement puts an official end to the previous era of the Patriots.
Over the past year alone, longtime Patriots such as Brady, Patrick Chung, Stephen Gostkowski, Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins and now Edelman, have departed the franchise.
Most importantly, it leaves a major void at receiver as the Patriots look to rebound from a 7-9 season — their first losing campaign since 2000.
Not having a key veteran cog who was around during the Patriots’ Super Bowl wins will be a major loss for New England as they look to define a winning identity in the post-Brady era.
The Patriots spent more money in free agency than any other NFL team, burning $159.6 million in guaranteed money across nine days, setting an NFL record according to ESPN Stats and Information.
In other words, Cam Newton — or whoever the Patriots start at quarterback during the 2021 season — won’t have a shortage of new targets to throw to. That would be because Bill Belichick brought in top free agent targets in tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry along with veteran receivers such as Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
With that being said, neither of those targets have a history of performing in big-time postseason games as Edelman did. And neither of the aforementioned four have turned in a single 1,000-yard campaign or 100-reception season during their careers.
That could very well change this year as they play their first seasons under Bill Belichick. But Edelman’s departure creates not only a major void at receiver and in the slot position — it eliminates yet another leader from the locker room.
Belichick recognized Edelman’s contributions as a player following his retirement.
“Day in and day out, Julian was always the same: all out. Then, in the biggest games and moments, with championships at stake, he reached even greater heights and delivered some of his best, most thrilling performances. For all Julian did for our team, what I may appreciate the most is he was the quintessential throwback player. He could, and did, do everything — catch, run, throw, block, return, cover and tackle — all with an edge and attitude that would not allow him to fail under any circumstance. Julian Edelman is the ultimate competitor and it was a privilege to coach him.”
As he mentioned during his retirement video over social media, Edelman certainly played until his body had no more left to give.
But as the Patriots continue to struggle to find an identity in the post-Brady era, they’ll have to do so without one of their key cogs over the past decade.
As the Patriots look to regain a semblance of their dominance over the prior two decades, you won’t find many familiar faces roaming the field anymore.
It is indeed a new era in New England. Only time will tell if Belichick and the Patriots will emerge as contenders yet again.