Shortly after the New England Patriots concluded their final practice of this year's minicamp, news broke that wide receiver Julian Edelman is facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs. While Edelman has appealed the decision, there is a realistic chance that he misses the first quarter of New England's 2018 season.
Let's quickly try to find out what this means.
Edelman will miss games against some top defenses
With Edelman potentially being out the first four weeks, the Patriots might have to face some talented defenses without their number one wide receiver. In week one, New England hosts the Houston Texans before two road games against arguably the best defense in the AFC – the Jacksonville Jaguars' – and former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's Detroit Lions. In week four, the Patriots return home for a game against the Miami Dolphins.
Coming off an ACL tear, Edelman will have four more weeks to get ready
In August 2017, Edelman suffered a knee injury that cost him all of last season. While the veteran saw an increasing number of reps over the last three weeks of practice, his workload is still being managed. He should be a full participant by the time training camp opens, yes, but missing the first month of the season will still allow him even more time to get ready for a return to regular season action.
The depth wide receivers become more important
New England's top two wide receivers from last year – Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola – are no longer on the team, which means somebody else will have to step up with Edelman potentially out. The following players are behind the 32-year old on the depth chart:
Don't be surprised if Riley McCarron and/or rookie Braxton Berrios will see added practice reps and preseason playing time with a possible Edelman suspension on the horizon. Both players are slot-first receivers and just like free agency addition Jordan Matthews might be needed to help soften the blow of Edelman's absence.
Edelman will not count against the 53-man roster if the suspension stands
If Edelman remains suspended after appeal, he will not count against the Patriots' 53-man regular season roster limit. This means that the team will be able to carry an additional player for the first quarter of the season it would otherwise have released. Once the veteran returns, the team will have to make another move to free up a spot but for as long as he is suspended another player gets a chance to stay on the team.
The Patriots might gain up to $860k in salary cap space
Edelman is currently in the second season of a two-year, $11.0 million contract extension he signed in June 2017. As part of the deal, he was scheduled to earn a base salary of $2.0 million – but pending a successful appeal could miss out on one quarter of the money. Furthermore, he might not be able to earn up to four games worth of roster bonuses ($125,000) as well as a fraction of his signing bonus ($392,157) that will have to be recouped by the team, per NFL rules. All in all, the Patriots might add up to $862,745 in salary cap space in case Edelman indeed misses time.