The list of New England Patriots players past and present that have strong cases to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day is headed by all-time greats such as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Richard Seymour, among others. They were (or still are) among the best players in the league for an extended period of time, and have the perfect blend of individual accolades and team success to one day get the famed golden jackets.
Julian Edelman is now eligible for the Hall of Fame as well, having announced his retirement on Monday after 12 years in the league.
Like those named above and numerous others that came through the Patriots’ program over the last two decades, Edelman has enjoyed tremendous success. He played an integral part in three Super Bowl wins, was named the MVP of one of those games, and retired as the second most prolific wide receiver in NFL postseason history.
For a seventh-round draft selection that entered the league without a clear position after having played quarterback at Kent State, that is quite the résumé. Add a combined 738 regular season and postseason catches for 8,264 yards and 41 touchdowns and you get some strong output to go along with the success he has had on a team level since arriving in New England back in the spring of 2009.
And yet, Edelman will likely have to wait quite some time before he will ever make it to Canton as an enshrinee — if he ever does at all. Fairly or not, zero All-Pro or Pro Bowl selections do that to your Hall of Fame case.
Regardless if he makes it in or not, though, or is deemed worthy of the honor to begin with, one thing can still not be denied: Edelman has left his mark on the history of pro football.
That statement in itself might be a strong or controversial one, but that does not make it any less true. Just think about those NFL Films clips from the last decade that Patriots fans have frequently revisited through the years — from America’s Game, to multiple Mic’d Up segments with Edelman as the featured wearer of the on-field microphone, to simple collections of game highlights.
The history of pro football is a visual one, and Edelman has made it onto all those film rolls and video files over the last 12 years not due to career longevity or his all-around entertaining character (although both certainly have played roles in that as well) but rather because of the role he played on the defining team of the post-2000 NFL. He was a playmaker for the dynasty-era Patriots.
From 2013 his role was that of go-to guy for the greatest quarterback in league history, and a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer. Edelman’s production during the regular season was important, and helped New England win seven straight division titles between his ascension that season and Tom Brady’s departure after the 2019 campaign.
He helped set the foundation for the club’s postseason success, but in his steadiness rarely caught the eye outside of Gillette Stadium. He did not redefine the slot position like Wes Welker, or post similarly impressive numbers. He was never considered among the league’s elite wideouts, nor was he a player seen as a prototypical number one wide receiver.
And yet, he was there when the Patriots needed to make plays. Never was that more apparent than when the lights shone brightest.
Just take the NFL’s 2014 postseason. A highlight reel of that year’s tournament would not be complete without two plays that prominently featured Edelman’s contributions — plays that are at least among the biggest in Patriots history. The first is his touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the divisional round thriller versus the Baltimore Ravens, the other his game-winning scoring reception against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49.
Fast forward two years and you get an even more striking image: Edelman, surrounded by three Atlanta Falcons defenders, coming away with a tipped pass to reel in a 23-yard catch in the fourth quarter. The play was emblematic of New England’s rally back from a 28-3 deficit, and later became one of the defining moments of a Super Bowl filled with memorable plays.
Last year, the NFL uploaded the full game to its YouTube channel. The image that has been inserted as the thumbnail picture? Yep, Edelman’s improbable reception — one that was later voted as the 22nd greatest play in NFL history as part of the league’s 100-year celebration.
His catch versus Atlanta and the other plays mentioned above are just three examples of him leaving his mark on the Patriots’ playoff success. There’s also the MVP trophy earned after he feasted on the Los Angeles Rams’ secondary in a Super Bowl 53 bout otherwise dominated by defense.
Add all those up and you get a mosaic of an impressive career filled with big plays and legendary moments. Is that enough to build a Hall of Fame career on? For the Pro Football version of it possibly not; there are other factors at play working against Edelman. The Patriots’ Hall of Fame, however, will see him get voted in on first ballot.
Which honors are deemed more important — Super Bowl rings, Hall of Fame jackets, records, you name it — can and will be debated ad nauseam. At the end of the day, however, we know two things.
Edelman’s career is nothing short of impressive. And, the history of the NFL cannot properly be written without mentioning him.
Hall of Fame or not that is quite the accomplishment for a player who heard 231 other names called in the draft before it was finally his turn.