He's Tom Brady's favorite target. He was 10th in the league in targets (146), and 4th in receptions (105). His reception rate was the best in the league out of players who saw 50% of their teams offensive snaps (71.9%). He's the best punt returner of all time.
And he's had barely any interest in free agency.
Welcome to the world of Julian Edelman and why the heck does he not have a job?
Here's what we know about Edelman's off-season:
The Patriots wanted to have a deal on hand prior to the start of free agency; they stated their price and told Edelman to take it, or leave it, but the offer wasn't very flexible. My assumption is that the offer was for less than what the Patriots are paying fellow receiver Danny Amendola. Edelman thought he deserved more money, rightfully so, and decided to test free agency.
Three teams have nibbled.
The Ravens make sense as they need more receivers for their arsenal. They have a rising star in Torrey Smith, who is a stud on the outside, as well as tight end Dennis Pitta, who just received a lengthy and wealthy extension. They re-signed Jacoby Jones, who makes more sense as a WR3 sort of player, so the Ravens are looking to improve with a WR2.
Edelman makes perfect sense in that offense, providing a mid-level target, while Smith owns the sidelines and Pitta runs the seams. Unfortunately for Edelman, the Panthers released veteran Steve Smith and Smith instantly jumped to the top of the Ravens' priority list. Add in the fact that the Ravens GM is former Bill Belichick acolyte Ozzie Newsome and you'll see a franchise that probably won't hand out the money that Edelman wants.
The 49ers are another prospect, although they're in a better situation than the Ravens; they don't necessarily need Edelman. They have Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and they're high on 2013 fourth round pick Quinton Patton. Add in their restructured deal with Jon Baldwin and you have to wonder where Edelman fits in this offense. He wants to be paid like a top tier slot receiver. He'd be target #4 in San Francisco.
Which brings up the Browns. Edelman is a perfect fit. Like the Ravens, he complements the current weapons; Josh Gordon is an elite WR1, while Jordan Cameron shows tremendous upside as a TE1. Edelman can slide right in as an elite slot receiver, he can see all his targets (the Browns were #1 in the league in pass attempts last season), and he can probably see a fair portion of the Browns enormous cap space.
Unfortunately for Edelman, the Browns like someone even more than him. The Bengals restricted free agent receiver Andrew Hawkins has been the apple of Cleveland's eye throughout this period. As the 5'7, 180 lbs Hawkins was an undrafted player, the Browns wouldn't owe the Bengals anything for beating out their offer.
The Bengals tagged Hawkins for $1.431 million. The Browns raised the stakes with a 4 year, $13.6 million offer. Cleveland more than doubled the Bengals' initial offer and proposed a $3.4 million per season contract.
Which raises two points:
1) The Browns like Hawkins more than Edelman, which is their prerogative, and feel that Edelman is worth less than $3.4 million. This could show the market's opinion for Edelman's value both on the field and on the salary cap.
2) The Browns like Edelman more than Hawkins, but Edelman's asking price is for more than $3.4 million, in addition to the Browns' perceived value of Edelman. This would show that Edelman's asking price is far too great.
Which, unfortunately for Edelman, is a bad place to be. He's overvaluing himself on the market in price, and he's finding that his skills aren't a top priority for many teams.
But what Edelman knows is that he has a place in New England. He knows he can be a daily starter in an offense that can allow him to thrive. He won't get the $6 million per season that Amendola was offered because if the Patriots had a do-over, they wouldn't make the same offer. Sunk cost.
My guess is the Patriots are giving Edelman an offer in a similar structure to Aqib Talib. Edelman has had one healthy season under his belt and investing top money in him would be a risk. But we saw that the Patriots offered Talib a contract with escalators to make him the second highest paid cornerback in the league. I would bet the Patriots offered Edelman a contract where he could earn as much as Amendola, if Jules can stay healthy.
The guaranteed would be less than what he wanted and that's probably why Edelman's agent balked. Which is fair.
But in this current buyers market, there's little demand for Edelman. Even though he set the league on fire in New England, teams are afraid it was just a flash in a bottle. The Patriots aren't going to wait around for Edelman; even if he's their top choice, they'll be looking around for better deals.
I hope the best for Edelman. But it's looking like the only open door is the one that he had just walked out- and he might need to make a decision before that door closes.