NFL free agency started with a bang as teams raced to snatch up top free agents before other suitors could swoop in. After a costly two-day free-for-all, unproven wide receiver Julian Edelman is the best pass-catcher left, and the New England Patriots face stiff competition to retain him.
Edelman is coming off a sensational year, but he turned in four utterly forgettable seasons prior to that. His 2013 numbers were inflated by the Pats' decimated offense. Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski each missed time last season, and the team had to release Aaron Hernandez due to the tight end being indicted on murder charges.
In 16 games last season, Edelman piled up 105 receptions, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns as he blossomed into Tom Brady's favorite target. But Edelman was only able to accrue those stats because he was slightly better than no-name WRs Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
Brady was so starved for receivers, running back Shane Vereen brought in 12 catches for 153 yards in a December game against the Cleveland Browns.
Speaking of the Browns, they are aggressively pursuing Edelman. In fact, Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com reported that Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, an ex-Patriot himself, had been helping with the recruiting efforts for the receiver.
Despite the numerous suitors, Edelman's durability is a glaring question mark, and 2013 was the only season in which he played all 16 games. In his other four seasons combined, he missed a total of 16 games and came up with just 69 catches for 714 yards and four touchdowns. Based on his track record, there is no reason to think he will ever come close to duplicating his 2013 output.
The Patriots had offered Edelman a three-year deal, but he opted instead to hit the open market and test his value. With numerous teams now vying for his services, the Patriots must choose between overpaying him and letting their best wideout leave in free agency for a second year in a row.
Already, Eric Decker signed on with the New York Jets, and Golden Tate agreed to terms with the Detroit Lions. That leaves Edelman as the top receiver remaining.
The Patriots have plenty of competition if they wish to retain him, and he will not come cheaply.
The receiver-hungry Baltimore Ravens are another team vying for Edleman's services, so not only will the Patriots have to scratch and claw to keep him, if they lose him to another team, they could very well face him in the playoffs next season.
As reported by Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the Houston Texans are also thought to be in the mix, and Edelman seems assured of a big payday after last season's dud: "(Edelman) could be looking to better the $10 million guaranteed that the Patriots gave Danny Amendola last season...Last year, he barely received any interest in free agency and he returned to the Patriots on a 1-year, league-minimum contract with incentives."
Edelman brings versatility as a kick returner, and he's even got quarterbacking skills to keep him as a threat on options and other gadget plays. He's a solid player when healthy, but there is nothing to suggest a repeat of his 2013 campaign and plenty to suggest that he will fall far short of those career-best numbers.
Regardless of where Edelman ends up, it seems assured that some team will give him too much money. The Patriots might be best suited letting him walk and going with a patchwork receiving corps once again in 2014.
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