The New England Patriots went 7-9 this past season and missed the playoffs in their first year without Tom Brady, who went on to win a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.
But Brady’s departure and the play of his replacement, Cam Newton, wasn’t the only reason for the Pats’ struggles. They lost multiple stars who opted out of the 2020 campaign, and are expected to welcome a vital trio of them back in 2021.
However, Super Bowl MVP receiver Julian Edelman is reportedly not going to be part of that group because of a nagging knee injury that may leave him out for the start of next season.
New England Patriots rumors: Julian Edelman’s knee injury clouds future
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that New England is, in all likelihood, going to retain marquee opt-out players in linebacker Dont’a Hightower, defensive back Patrick Chung and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon. Unfortunately, Edelman may not be healthy enough to go.
Edelman was out for 10 games last season, and it’s worth noting that he also missed the entire 2017 campaign with a major knee injury.
Given that he turns 35 in May and has been with the Patriots his entire career, it wouldn’t be easy for Edelman to catch on with another team in the event the Patriots parted ways with him.
At least Edelman doesn’t count much at all against the salary cap, and New England has a ton of financial flexibility to work with as head coach Bill Belichick tries to retool the roster and get the Pats back to the playoffs.
Having the heart and soul of the defense in Hightower is bound to be a big boost. Chung has also carved out a long career and has played all but one of his 11 seasons in Foxborough. He’s an extremely versatile player in the secondary who Belichick can trust, and Chung will be refreshed physically after a year away from the game, too.
Cannon is a quality right tackle, but the Patriots actually played extremely well in the trenches this past season, ranking fourth by Pro Football Focus‘ metrics. Second-year standout Michael Onwenu shined despite being a sixth-round pick in 2020 and can slide in to play guard instead of occupying Cannon’s spot.
That leaves New England in great shape up front on offense, but with Edelman possibly not playing, it’s all the more apparent how desperately the team needs to get more explosive on that side of the ball.
New England Patriots must upgrade offense in 2021
Even with Hightower and Chung back to help the defense and Cannon helping to make up for potentially losing guard Joe Thuney in free agency, there are obvious, gaping holes on the Patriots roster, namely at quarterback and wide receiver.
Newton was a late addition during the 2020 offseason and had to learn a whole new system that was tailored to Brady for two decades on the fly. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn’t really know how to adjust with Newton under center during the season, and a lackluster cast of wideouts did little to contribute in the passing attack.
An argument can be made that Newton is the Patriots’ best QB option since he’d provide continuity at the most important position. However, regardless of who’s throwing passes for the Patriots next season, they can’t trot out the likes of N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski at receiver and expect to thrive.
Preferably, the team will spend on two prestigious pass-catchers in free agency with its treasure chest of cap money, draft at least one receiver to develop and also figure out a way to either move up from 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to acquire a new quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo could be an option for the Pats too if they want to go the veteran upgrade route. Jimmy G began his career in New England as Brady’s presumptive heir apparent, so he’s very familiar with McDaniels’ system as Brady ran it.
Whatever Belichick does to address the offense, it’d sting for the Patriots not to have Edelman on the field. When he was healthy in 2020, he showed he still had game with a healthy 15 yards per catch on 21 receptions.
Edelman and Brady had a great connection during their shared time in New England, so if Edelman were to go anywhere else, it’d probably be Tampa Bay to reunite with TB12.