When the New England Patriots released Julian Edelman earlier this week, thus actually doing him a favor in the grand scheme of things, they did not just lose their most experienced wide receiver but also put the finishing touches on of the best stories in recent franchise history. Edelman’s story was that of perseverance and, ultimately, success.
It has, of course, been told multiple times. A dual-threat college quarterback who entered the NFL draft without a clear position, Edelman grew from seventh-round draft pick, to part time receiver and punt return, to a key cog in three Super Bowl-winning teams.
That development may seem like a steady progression in hindsight, but it was anything but. Edelman had to deal with his fair share of challenges along the way. He still managed to develop into one of the most reliable and productive pass catchers in Patriots annals, however, and a player much respected not just by his teammates and peers but also by head coach Bill Belichick as well.
“Julian’s been one of the players that’s probably come further than most every other player that I’ve coached,” Belichick said about Edelman during a media conference call earlier this week.
“His development from a quarterback in college to a receiver, a punt returner and even a defensive player, all positions that he never played, I’d certainly take sail as a punt returner as a receiver, for a number of years at those very difficult positions as quite an accomplishment, especially considering he wasn’t trained to do those things in college.”
Belichick’s praise is a continuation of what he already said about Edelman in a statement released immediately following his retirement. It is also additional proof for just how much the greatest coach in the NFL appreciated the opportunity to work with the draft day afterthought, and how impressed he was by his growth through the years.
The Patriots certainly saw something worth cultivating in Edelman during the 2009 pre-draft process, despite waiting until the seventh round to eventually invest in him. That he developed into this important a player on their team could still only have come as a surprise, especially after he played a comparatively minor role outside of special teams over the first four years of his professional career in New England.
And still, Edelman managed to become what Belichick called a big part of the Patriots’ backbone.
“His toughness, his competitiveness, his play-making ability certainly is a big, big part of the backbone of our team,” said Belichick. “I have a ton of respect for Julian and what he accomplished in his career, how hard he worked to accomplish it and a great appreciation for all he’s done for me personally and our organization.”
As the “Mr. Patriot” of his era, Edelman has followed the footsteps of franchise greats such as Gino Cappelletti and Troy Brown — all players whose versatility and leadership earned them legendary status in New England. While neither of the three seems to be destined to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, they will have one thing in common in the near future: the status as Patriots Hall of Famers.
It may not have the same prestige, but it will still become another chapter to be added to what has been — to quote the man himself — “one hell of a story.”