- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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Following up with some thoughts on Julian Edelman, the subject of colleague Mike Rodak's first installment of "Bubble Watch" for 2013.
Given the uncertain times for the Patriots in the receiving corps (and we'll include the tight end position), the decision to retain Edelman this offseason was an important one. Edelman is a part of the uncertain receiver dilemma because he is currently rehabbing a foot injury, but he's also the only wide receiver on the roster who caught a pass in a Patriots uniform last season (he had 21 receptions).
The issue for Edelman has never been talent; injuries and the presence of other more experienced wide receivers have mitigated his offensive role in four seasons. He was a standout during 2012 training camp, showing elite elusiveness, quickness with the football in his hands, and precise route-running that had us forecasting him as a regular contributor when the season began. A pair of injuries limited Edelman to nine games in 2012, but he was hitting his stride in the games leading up to each of the issues. His development was apparent, as was his chemistry with Tom Brady.
And that is where Edelman's greatest advantage for making this roster may be: Brady has tremendous respect for Edelman's work ethic (as do many of the other Patriots) and trusts him as a target. While we've seen Brady and Danny Amendola quickly develop a chemistry this offseason, no other wideout stood out in that regard with Brady. Edelman wasn't able to workout on the field this offseason, but provided he is ready in time for training camp, the implicit trust he shares with Brady will be there too.
Edelman has had tremendous value as a special teamer for the Patriots during his four seasons, and he is the only player in the NFL with a punt return over each of the past three seasons (he's also an important coverage player on the kickoff team). As Rodak mentioned, the Patriots now have both Leon Washington and Danny Amendola to return punts, though Edelman averaged nearly seven more yards per return than Washington in 2012, and with Amendola likely to absorb a major offensive role, the Patriots would be well-served to have a pair of capable punt returners besides him.
The 27-year old Edelman is continuing to refine his offensive skill set (he had some drops that stood out during training camp last year), but he's improved in each of his seasons and is capable of playing a substantial role. But, as Edelman's incentive laden contract suggests, it's all about his health. He needs to be on the roster for Week 1 to see the majority of a bonus he signed in his new deal, and his incentives are directly tied to the number of catches he has.
It's impossible to predict injuries, but if Edelman can avoid them, look for him to make this roster and have a chance to compete for extensive snaps.