Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots drafted wide receiver Julian Edelman out of Kent State in 2009. Over the years, he's established himself as New England's ace on special teams, returning touchdowns in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
He was effective during his Troy Brown-type stint at defensive back in 2011 and he has shown real potential as a legitimate receiver. His versatility and his work ethic have made him the modern face of the Patriot Way.
But if all that's true, then why is his role with the team still so murky?
The murkiness is primarily rooted in his injuries. Inconsistent field time has stalled his development. He hasn't made himself indispensable, except perhaps for his prowess on special teams. But his knack for returning really isn't why he's there. He's a receiver. He's there to catch his way to a championship ring.
Having not yet defined himself as a pass-catcher and playing with a one-year contract, Edelman's future in New England is at risk of slipping away. Like former Patriots receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Edelman appears to be a superb talent whom the Patriots can conceivably live without. Given the fact that he's one of my favorite players, I hope that isn't the case.
Still, if the Patriots could let Moss and Welker walk, surely they can let Edelman walk after this season. All three would go down in Patriots lore as important players who not only left New England prematurely, but also left with unfinished business, unfulfilled goals and, in a sense, unrealized potential. There's something very sad about that.
For Edelman to avoid such a glum fate, he needs to work himself into the fabric and into the blood of the team. But he still hasn't done it after all this time.
Coming off a slow offseason in which he was recovering from a foot injury, Edelman only notched three receptions for 31 yards against the Eagles. He didn't fare much better against the Buccaneers and Lions either, accumulating 26 yards and 18 yards, respectively. More is needed from Edelman, much more.
The bottom line is that Edelman has the potential to be a champion. He also has the potential to be a Patriot for life. But we can't keep charging into every season saying, "This is the year he makes the leap." Edelman just needs to make that leap.
Here's hoping he does.