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Will WR Julian Edelman take less money in 2018 to stay with the Patriots?

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The Patriots wide receiver will be a free agent after this season. Will he sign an extension to remain in New England?

The New England Patriots are preparing for life after WR Julian Edelman and will head into 2018 with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen at tight end, and James White and Mike Gillislee at running back. They will be fine on offense with or without Edelman.

But there’s no question that the Patriots offense would be better with QB Tom Brady’s favorite target still in the lineup.

Edelman turned 31 years of age on Monday this past week and should be entering the final stages of his career. Of course Edelman is coming off the best season of his eight years in the NFL, so who knows what the future holds.

Edelman ascended into the Patriots starting line-up once Wes Welker left for greener pa$ture$ in Denver in 2013 and has averaged 72.9 yards per game over the past four seasons, the 7th highest yards per game by a wide receiver with 50 or more games over that time frame.

And like Welker, Edelman will enter his age-32 season as a free agent. Welker left the Patriots after the two sides couldn’t agree on the receiver’s value. One former member of the Patriots believes that Edelman will follow a different path and take less money to remain in New England.

“I know Wes got into a contract dispute with the Pats, and wound up going to Denver,” former Patriots FB Heath Evans told the Boston Herald. “I don’t think we’re going to see that with Jules. I think Jules embraces the grind-it-out-for-the-common-good mentality. I think he gets the fact, maybe taking less money, you make more for the next 20-30 years (with business interests), because you form such a legacy in an area of the country that’s never going to forget you.”

Evans argues that Patriots players could receive more long-term financial stability by finishing their careers in New England and taking advantage of the “legacy” the player develops in the region. There will always be an opening at a place like NESN or Comcast for former Patriots players, and Edelman already has a connection with Dunkin’ Donuts.

So Edelman has to evaluate whether these opportunities would remain available if he were to sign with another team, or whether the money offered by another team greatly outweighs the future earnings in the New England region.

Welker wasn’t the first Patriots legend to leave the Patriots and join Peyton Manning for what was essentially chump change at the time, as K Adam Vinatieri previously signed with the Indianapolis Colts for less than $500,000 more per season than what the Patriots were offering. That certainly worked out for Vinatieri, who remains the Colts kicker to this day and is about to have spent more time in a Colts uniform than in a Patriots uniform.

Welker, on the other hand, might have hurt his chance at long-term earnings when he defected to the Broncos in 2013 for what might have been a lesser contract than what the Patriots were offering.

“Our last offer [to Welker] before we thought we were going into free agency was a $10 million offer with incentives that would've earned him another $6 million [over two years] if he performed the way he has the previous two years,” Kraft said back in 2013, via CBS Sports. “But in Denver he's going to count $4 million against the cap the first year and $8 million the second year and there's no guarantee he plays the second year. So he will get $6 million the first year. Our deal he would've gotten $8 million the first year, with our last offer to him.”

Kraft pretty much described the Patriots offer to Welker as a 2-year, $10 million deal with an additional $6 million in incentives that aligned with his production in previous years, but protected the Patriots in case of a decline. Kraft implies that the guaranteed money was spread across both years of the deal to ensure Welker would have two years of financial stability.

Welker ended up signing a 2-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos, but it was actually two separate 1-year, $6 million contracts since the second-year was a fully guaranteed option.

Kraft argued that Welker could’ve made $8 million per year with the Patriots versus $6 million per year with the Broncos, but the receiver’s sharp drop in production in both 2013 and 2014 points to a very real chance that Welker would have struggled to reach the incentives and ultimately made more money in Denver than in New England.

But assuming that Welker failed to reach any of his incentives in New England (which is an extreme assumption), Welker would have made $2 million more in Denver than with the Patriots, or $1 million more per season. Would Welker have been able to make that difference back with endorsements in New England? That’s the risk Welker deemed worth taking.

Evans believes that Edelman will forgo potential earnings for the opportunity to remain a fixture in New England. Based on the contracts of Edelman’s peers, he should be looking at a 2- or 3-year deal at $10-$12 million per season on the open market. It would certainly be poetic if he took a discount to remain in New England on a similar 2-year, $16 million offer that the Patriots extended to Welker.

The Patriots probably don’t see a rush to strike a deal with Edelman, who has battled injuries and is coming off just the second 16-game season of his career. Even if Edelman makes it through the season unscathed, it’s almost impossible that his demand would increase. While we might not see any deal with Edelman until next year, the potential of a return on a discount is certainly an interesting prospect to consider.