Edelman's route may take him back to the Pats

Edelman's route may take him back to the Pats
April 3, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Julian Edelman’s got experience with spending time on the shelf between September and January.

And that undoubtedly is part of the reason he’s on the shelf now as 2013 free agency slogs toward its fourth week. Edelman attracted nary a sniff until Thursday, when he was reported to be in New York to visit with the Giants. 

Injuries and the resulting lack of resume make Edelman a player to be wary of.

The Giants' interest has to seem a glass of water in a desert of disinterest for Edelman. And each passing day the 26-year-old wide receiver/returner remains unsigned on the free agent market, the more likely it becomes he’ll return to the Patriots.

The reasoning? If Edelman isn’t finding money or a team willing to commit to him on the open market in 2013, it makes sense for Edelman to return to New England for the short-term, take less than he hoped and then hit the market when he’s closer to a position of strength.

Because now, Edelman has to conquer the skepticism that he’ll always be hurt. In 2012, Edelman suffered a broken hand in September, a concussion in November and a broken foot in December that landed him on IR. An ankle injury early in 2011 muddied that season for him.

Edelman’s got potential as he nears his 27th birthday (May 22). He’s explosive as a punt returner (even if his decision-making is at times reckless). His straight-line speed is extremely underrated and he competes with ferocity. By the end of August, his offseason work with Tom Brady in California and his conditioning had him coming out of training camp as the Patriots most improved player.

He’s played 22 games over the past two seasons and has 25 catches during that span. As a result, the only murmur of interest prior to the Giants was a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Browns contacted Edelman’s representatives.

The Edelman camp’s been locked up tight as far as where any non-Patriot interest lies. And part of the reason may be because there just hasn't been much out there.

The truth is, Edelman’s a helluva lot more valuable to the Patriots than any other team.

And for him, that’s a blessing and a curse. Here’s why.

Currently, the team has Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones as wide receivers under contract. Jenkins is a place-holder at 30, a guy who will compete for a third or fourth-receiver job. Jones is a dice-roll because of a health issue.

Meanwhile, Amendola has the versatility to replace Welker inside or play outside as Edelman can. Amendola’s a lot better than Edelman (although Amendola’s been snakebit by injury as well), but he’s got more experience as a wide receiver while Edelman is still learning the position, having played quarterback until getting to the NFL.

But consider Edelman and Amendola -- along with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski -- and then consider how much of an irritant the group would be to defensive coordinators.

For instance, Edelman and Amendola can both play inside or outside; Gronkowski can play as an in-line tight end or has some skills on the outside and Hernandez can play tight end, wideout or slot.

To be successful defensively, a team must be able to decipher the tendencies of personnel groupings. If the Patriots break the huddle with four players who could -- by the time the ball’s snapped -- be performing any one of three jobs capably, how do you match up your linebackers, corners and safeties correctly to predict the types of route being run?

That reality is one of the reasons I consider the Patriots’ offense to be the most highly-evolved incarnation of offensive football. Its ability to morph is unprecedented.

Since every other team doesn’t yet take advantage -- or cultivate -- their receivers’ versatility, the fact Edelman can do a mess of things isn’t as valued in other organizations.

He’s better here, even if he isn’t financially better off here. And here is where he may well end up.