When the New England Patriots signed wide receiver Julian Edelman to a contract last offseason, it was a one-year deal that offered just the veteran minimum salary, plus a small roster bonus, and $250,000 in incentives. To earn that full amount, Edelman needed 70 receptions—33 more than he had had in any previous season.
Edelman reached that mark in Week 13, and then tacked on another 35 receptions, becoming quarterback Tom Brady's third 100-catch receiver (after Troy Brown and Wes Welker).
As Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald noted during Super Bowl week, Pats owner Robert Kraft has expressed his desire to keep Edelman a Patriot. On the other hand, The Boston Globe's Zuri Berry wrote about a recent talk by Jonathan Kraft, Patriots president (and Kraft's son) at a conference on sports analytics. In talking about Welker's split from the team, Kraft expressed his feeling that Welker and his agent essentially misread the market for his services.
Taken together, the Patriots' message here seems to be "We want to keep you, Julian, but only if it makes financial sense for us, too."
So what would a fair offer look like? Three recent contracts seem to give an idea of where Edelman's market should be.
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Riley Cooper, 26, to a five-year deal worth $25 million. According to Philly.com's Zach Berman and Jeff McLane, the deal includes a total of $10 million in guaranteed money, but $2 million of that is currently guaranteed against injury only.
Finally, there's the contract signed last year by Edelman's teammate, Danny Amendola. The Patriots signed the former Ram, who was 27 at the time, to a five-year deal worth $28.5 million, with $10 million guaranteed over the first two years. Amendola, who was signed in the opening hours of free agency in 2013, was widely seen as Welker's successor, but Edelman ended up filling that role instead.
None of these are perfect comparisons. Boldin is much nearer the end of his career than the beginning. Cooper is more of an outside threat than Edelman; the former Florida Gator averaged 17.8 yards per reception, while the former Kent State QB averaged just 10.1 yards a catch. And even Amendola, who had several injuries as a Ram, just as Edelman has had several injuries as a Patriot, had better production at wide receiver than Edelman did prior to the 2013 season.
Moreover, none of them have Edelman's versatility; the Patriots know that Edelman is one of the best punt returners in league history and can play defensive back if needed.
Yesterday, the Patriots' Twitter feed tersely said, "The #Patriots have announced that there will be no transactions today." That meant that the Patriots declined to use the franchise tag on Edelman, which would have guaranteed him one year at $12.3 million. This isn't surprising; that would be far more than they were willing to pay Randy Moss in 2008, after he had set the record for receiving touchdowns, and about $3 million more than they were willing to give Welker in 2012 after five highly productive seasons.
We also don't know what, precisely, Edelman and his agent want in a new deal. Are they looking for a four- or five-year deal, or would they accept a shorter, mostly guaranteed deal?
In the end, though, it will likely come down to how much the Patriots are willing to guarantee Edelman; after all, the only money that an NFL player can truly count on is the guaranteed money. A fair offer from the Patriots, regardless of its length, should offer Edelman about $10 million in guaranteed money. In fact, if I were in the Patriots front office, I would offer Edelman exactly the same contract that they offered Amendola last year.