While it can be argued that Julian Edelman's career year in 2013 was simply the product of consistently playing with Tom Brady in a receiver-friendly system, he would do himself a massive disservice if he elects to not test the free-agency market.
Edelman is in a very difficult situation. After a breakout year at the age of 27 in which he caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards and six scores, the Patriots have extended him an olive branch as a reward in the form of a three-year deal, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
One can presume that in the current state of the NFL, where teams are reluctant to dole out cash with rookies coming so cheap thanks to the new CBA, the best money for a player like Edelman will be offered by his former team.
But in Edelman's individual case, he may want to see what else is out there at the risk of souring the relationship with the front office in New England.
There is certainly a market for his services. As Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated writes, a team in need of a consistent option to help a struggling quarterback from a year ago, such as Baltimore, may pay up:
Will Edelman actually leave New England? If he does, a short trip to Baltimore could be in the cards. The Ravens find themselves in a strong cap situation (nearly $25 million available), so why not drop some to bring in another proven threat for the offense? Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Edelman would provide Joe Flacco three very reliable targets.
As NFL Network's Albert Breer points out, Cleveland may also be in the running for Edelman if he reaches the market:
It's hard to say if any of this will come to fruition. After all, the receiver market is very deep this offseason, as is the inbound rookie pool. Add in the fact teams may view Edelman's production in a vacuum as a result of a pass-happy attack where he was the only healthy, reliable target, and going to the market is certainly a risky proposition—regardless of how many teams appear to have a need for his particular skill set.
But again, it only takes one team to put the outrageous cash down on a contract. Experts solely on the business side of the pro game best understand the risk Edelman must take, as one anonymous agent explained to Ron Borges of the Boston Herald:
Edelman needs to go to the highest bidder this time. As a seventh-round pick, who never made any real dough, this is his last, best chance to cash in. He needs to end up surpassing [Danny] Amendola’s deal because he played better than Amendola.
A good comparable would be the Dolphins’ five-year, $30 million deal for Brian Hartline. I don’t see the Patriots doing that, but some fool will. Edelman’s agents have to make that happen.
Mr. Anonymous may be onto something. Andre Roberts, who caught just 43 passes a year ago, just inked a four-year deal with Washington worth $16 million, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post. Riley Cooper, who caught 47 passes, just scored a five-year deal with Philadelphia worth $25 million, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
So it turns out the money is there for reliable receivers, and Edelman had numbers a year ago that dwarf that of most on the market, with only Eric Decker in the same neighborhood (he is also in a very similar situation as the knock is his status as the product of a system).
Edelman is an injury risk, though. Last year was his first time in five years as a pro he made it through a full 16-game schedule. This will certainly play a role in any negotiations, but it speaks volumes that the Patriots feel strongly enough about him to not take the gamble on unearthing another gem because the system allegedly produces star wideouts.
It is in Edelman's best interests to test the market and potentially play suitors against each other. Like many fail to do, he must understand that the NFL is first and foremost a business. If he treats it as such, he may be rewarded with more than New England is willing to fork over.