The first time Julian Edelman appeared on the radar was during the 2009 preseason opener, four months after the New England Patriots selected him 232nd overall in the draft. Serving as the team’s punt returner with Wes Welker out, he returned a kick 75 yards to the end zone on just his fourth-ever touch in an NFL game. Ten years later, Edelman is adding two more years to his contract to potentially finish his career in New England.
This contract extension is just the latest chapter in Edelman’s Patriots tenure — one that will earn him a spot in the team’s and potentially even pro football’s Hall of Fame one day. Back in 2009, of course, none of that was even remotely expected of the former college quarterback who converted to wide receiver and special teams player upon entering the NFL. The signs were there, in retrospect, but Edelman was buried on the depth chart due to his mix of raw talent and inexperience.
Then came the postseason. With Welker suffering a torn ACL one week before the Patriots’ playoff opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Edelman was elevated into a bigger role — and he delivered as one of the few players during New England’s wild card loss. His performance was a sign of things to come: whenever the spotlight was brightest, Edelman appeared to play his best football to establish a reputation as one of the NFL’s clutch performers.
In 2013, he took his game and his role within the Patriots’ offense to a new level. While Welker left for the Denver Broncos and Danny Amendola was brought in to replace him, Edelman — playing on a one-year deal he signed a month into free agency — showed that he also should not be forgotten about: the Kent State product became New England’s number one wide receiver, and Tom Brady’s go-to guy, en route to the best season of his career up to that point.
And yet, the best was still ahead of him.
Entering the 2014 season with a new four-year, $17 million contract in hand, Edelman played a key role in helping the Patriots reach and subsequently win their first Super Bowl in a decade. Not only did he lead the team in receptions during the regular season for the second time, he again stood out in the playoffs — making some of the biggest plays in franchise history along the way: from his double-pass touchdown to Amendola in the divisional round to an enormous third down conversion and the game-winner in Super Bowl 49.
Edelman’s collection of legendary moments does not stop there, though. Two years after winning his first Super Bowl with the Patriots, he and the franchise added another championship to their respective trophy cases — and again it was the team’s most consistent wide receiver that delivered a signature moment: in the fourth quarter of New England’s Super Bowl comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons, Edelman caught a deflected pass attempt a mere inches from the ground.
“I put at the top of my paper every day, ‘Never comfortable,’” said Edelman in the summer following Super Bowl 51 — and after signing a two-year, $11 million contract extension with New England. “It’s just how I feel always. There’s a lot of crazy stuff in this league and you got to go out and you got to earn your role every year. [...] I don’t like that — to feel comfortable. That’s how complacency kicks in.”
The two years after Edelman’s second Super Bowl win were marked by some of the highest and lowest moments of his career. In August 2017, the veteran receiver tore his ACL during a preseason game and was forced to sit out the entire year. Later, he was suspended for a quarter of the 2018 season for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing substances. When he returned from his fourteen-month absence in October of last year, however, Edelman was his typical reliable self.
The former seventh-round draft pick helped the Patriots’ passing game find its rhythm after it had started the season inconsistently, and capped the campaign with what might just be his magnum opus: Edelman caught 10 passes for 141 yards in Super Bowl 53 against the Los Angeles Rams, and was named the game’s most valuable player. It was just the latest example of his postseason excellence — and his value to the organization and its quarterback.
Today’s contract extension, coming one day before his 33rd birthday, is therefore the logical continuation of Edelman’s story: his new two-year deal might just be enough to keep him in New England for the remainder of his illustrious career. And frankly, there shouldn’t be any other way to wrap up his — still unfinished — story. After all, few players have embodied the so-called ‘Patriot Way’ quite like Edelman.
He was a standout on special teams and even a part-time defensive back before breaking out as a wide receiver. He worked his way from a draft-day afterthought to a Super Bowl MVP. He earned it all through hard work and following one of head coach Bill Belichick’s most notable mantras: ‘do your job.’ Edelman is doing it in exemplary fashion ever since 2009, which enabled him to keep adding to his story year after year.
“I’m happy to be a Patriot,” said Edelman after signing his two-year extension in 2017 when asked about potentially ending his career in New England — and it is not hard to imagine him answering the question any differently this time around. “I’m a Pat, but I’m just worried about this year. As lame as it sounds and as much as you guys hear it, it’s really a mentality where you just keep it day-to-day. When you can do that, that’s usually when you stay focused and you improve the most. That’s how I’m going to try to take this.”
This approach has helped Edelman turn into one of the most prolific performers the wide receiver position has ever seen — a prototypical Patriot, now bound to the team through 2021.