“It was a hard decision but the right decision for me and my family,” Edelman said in a video posted to social media. “And I’m honored and so proud to be retiring a Patriot.”
Edelman started the 2020 season with a bang, racking up eight catches for 179 yards in Week 2, but his numbers fell off and, after what was described at the time as minor knee surgery, he didn’t play after Week 6. He finishes his career second all-time in receptions (620) for the Patriots, as well as fourth in receiving yards (6,822) and ninth in receiving touchdowns (36).
It is in the postseason, however, that Edelman put together a résumé that has led to suggestions he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is second in NFL playoff receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,442), and he was named MVP of Super Bowl LIII after his 10 catches for 141 yards stood out in the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, in which both teams mostly struggled to move the ball.
His greatest individual highlight arguably came in Super Bowl LI, when his diving, juggling catch amid defenders helped New England come all the way back from a 28-3 deficit and defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. Two years earlier, in the Patriots’ taut win over the Seattle Seahawks, he tied for the most receiving yards at 109 and his touchdown with just over two minutes left provided the game-winning margin.
“It’s been the best 12 years of my life,” Edelman said in the video Monday. “A hell of a run.”
During his NFL career, Edelman also missed time with injuries, most notably when a torn knee ligament cost him the entire 2017 season. Foot issues sidelined him for major portions of the 2012 and 2015 campaigns, but sticking around at all on an NFL roster appeared to be an unlikely outcome when New England made him a seventh-round pick in 2009.
A 5-foot-10, 195-pound quarterback at a school not known for producing an abundance of professional-grade talent, Edelman wasn’t even invited to the NFL draft combine. However, he showed impressive quickness on tape and at Kent State’s pro day, and he was thought to be a potential fit for the wildcat offensive schemes some teams were using at the time.
The Patriots drafted Edelman as a wide receiver, but he made his mark primarily on special teams until he broke out as a pass-catcher in his fifth season. He proceeded to form a close bond with quarterback Tom Brady on the field and off.
“On the biggest stage and in the biggest moments, you always came through,” Brady wrote to Edelman in a tribute he posted Monday to social media. “You never let anyone define you as a person or player. You have so many teammates that admired your work ethic and will to win, and I am at the top of the list because when I was down and feeling sorry for myself at times, you were right there to pick me up.
“You were as tough as could be and I love you for all that you did to make our teams as great as they could possibly be.”
“For all Julian did for our team, what I may appreciate the most is he was the quintessential throwback player,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. “He could, and did, do everything — catch, run, throw, block, return, cover and tackle — all with an edge and attitude that would not allow him to fail under any circumstance. Julian Edelman is the ultimate competitor and it was a privilege to coach him.”
“Julian Edelman is one of the great success stories in our franchise’s history,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “There aren’t many players who earn an NFL roster spot at a position they have never played before. … His explosiveness off the line, quickness in his cuts and elusiveness after the catch made him one of the hardest players to defend throughout his career. His clutch catches in our biggest games and overall toughness made him a fan favorite.”
The Patriots terminated Edelman’s contract Monday in a move designated as related to a failed physical, which could allow him to collect as much as $2 million via a collectively bargained injury protection benefit (per ESPN).
New England, which struggled on offense last year after Brady left in free agency, aggressively targeted pass-catchers in the offseason. The team signed the top two tight ends on the market, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith; gave former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Nelson Agholor a two-year, $26 million deal; and added former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.
The Boston Herald cited a person familiar with Edelman’s situation in reporting last week that it was “doubtful” his chronic knee issues would allow him to play the entire 2021 season.
Now Edelman has hung up his cleats altogether. He made a point in his video of being shown leaving the field at the Patriots’ stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
“Nothing in my career has ever come easy. And no surprise, this isn’t going to be easy, either,” Edelman said. “I’ve always said I’m going to go until the wheels come off. And, uh, they finally have fallen off.”