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Julian Edelman doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, and that’s okay

Julian Edelman had a remarkable career, but he’s not quite Hall of Fame worthy.

San Francisco 49ers v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

When the news hit on Monday that the New England Patriots were releasing veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman due to a failed physical, the 34-year-old announced he was retiring from the NFL. The end of his career has led to discussion about his worthiness of being enshrined in Canton.

Edelman’s career was remarkable, but like the majority of players who leave the NFL, that doesn’t mean he deserves pro football’s highest honor. We can appreciate a wonderful career without acting like it needs to be elevated to historic status when it doesn’t quite get there.

There is no tangible reason Edelman should have succeeded in the NFL. Here was a small, shifty quarterback taken in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft and put on special teams because he was a good athlete. On the edge of the roster with everything to prove, Edelman flashed his potential immediately, returning a punt for 75 yards in a preseason game against Philadelphia.

From here Edelman built off that success. He worked primarily on special teams, but found his way into getting reps on offense, finishing the season with 359 receiving yards in limited time. It wasn’t until 2013 that Edelman really got a shot full-time at the position, largely out of desperation. Wes Welker had left for the Broncos in free agency, Brandon Lloyd was a one-year signing that didn’t really pan out, so with a dearth of talent at the position Bill Belichick inserted Edelman into the starting lineup, hoping he could somewhat emulate Welker’s prolific production.

And he did.

In that 2013 season Edelman finished with over 1,000 receiving yards and six touchdowns. However, Edelman’s career isn’t really defined by what he did in the regular season. Yes, it’s important, but where the receiver really made his mark was as a pivotal part of the Patriots’ postseason offense.

The best descriptor for how Edelman played is “annoying,” and that’s a compliment. A key player in helping define slot receiver play in the mid 2010s, Edelman leveraging his natural athleticism with a toughness that allowed him to get under defender’s skin. Here’s a guy who on paper should have been laid out with a big shot over the middle by a linebacker or safety, but he never really was. A player who was always hungry to get better, Edelman corrected his ball security issues after the 2014 season, fumbling only eight times in five years. Considering his stature, and the punishment he took that’s incredible. But it’s a testament to the player he is.

Edelman’s career is defined by heart and work ethic. The kind of intangibles that fans love. He was intimately aware that not having the ideal NFL body would mean needing to prove himself time and time again, and he kept doing it. This made him the perfect Bill Belichick football player, and the ideal target for Tom Brady. Two guys who never should have made it, playing every week with a chip on their shoulders, and making the league pay for it.

Julian Edelman’s career stands as a testament to never giving up. It instills youth with the belief that they can achieve their goals, even when the rest of the world writes them off. The mark he left on the game is more indelible that any stat line shows, and there is no doubt we’ll see dozens of future players cite him as a reason they kept working.

The case for Julian Edelman making the Hall of Fame

Edelman was not a regular season stat stuffer, but there’s no question he made an impact when it counted. Over the course of his career he averaged just shy of 50 yards a game receiving, but routinely went on a tear in the playoffs.

In the postseason Edelman average 75.9 yards. Of the 118 passes he caught in the playoffs 82 of them were for a first down. He picked up the hard yards, moved the chains, and was a mammoth reason the Patriots’ dynasty remained prolific.

Edelman is second only to Jerry Rice in all-time playoff receiving yards, soaring above the likes of Michael Irvin, Reggie Wayne, and Hines Ward. He’s also second all time in total playoff receptions, just 33 behind Rice once again.

Finally, he’s one of a handful of receivers to win a Super Bowl MVP award for his 10 catch, 141 yard game against the Falcons in Super Bowl LIII. If Canton was based on showing up in games that mattered the most, he’d be a first ballot lock.

The case against Julian Edelman making the Hall of Fame

This isn’t a knock on Edelman’s career, but rather how brutally difficult it is to make it to Canton as a wide receiver. As I mentioned before, Edelman is a postseason superstar, but plenty of other guys were almost as good as Edelman in the playoffs, AND excelled in the regular season.

There is a world where Edelman belongs in Canton, but not before these guys:

  • Steve Smith: 7,909 more regular season yards, 45 more regular season receiving touchdowns, 441 less playoff receiving yards, 4 more playoff receiving touchdowns.
  • Reggie Wayne: 7,523 more regular season yards, 46 more regular season receiving touchdowns, 188 less playoff receiving yards, 4 more playoff receiving touchdowns.
  • Anquan Boldin: 6,897 more regular season yards, 385 less playoff receiving yards, 46 more regular season receiving touchdowns, 3 more playoff receiving touchdowns.

With just these three guys in consideration it’s impossible to justify putting Edelman in the Hall of Fame while they miss out. Don’t get me wrong, I think Smith, Wayne and Boldin all belong in Canton — but it’s out of the question to talk about putting in Edelman without these guys.

Edelman’s legacy doesn’t need Canton

It’s okay to appreciate Julian Edelman’s career without needing to enshrine him, in fact, this might be the most appropriate way for his career to end. When a player makes the Hall of Fame they’re relegated to a part of our mind as “great,” and rarely thought of again.

By having him on the cusp it ensures Edelman is still talked about, remembered, and his greatness debated. A reminder of the player from Kent State who was never given a second thought about making the NFL, finding a way through his hard work and determination to even be in a discussion about Hall of Fame wide receivers.

I promise, it’s best this way.