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ben volin | on football

Julian Edelman will be a polarizing and unprecedented Hall of Fame candidate

In Super Bowl LIII against the Rams, Julian Edelman had 10 catches for 141 yards and was named the game's MVP.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Bill Belichick was part of the blue ribbon panel assembled by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019-20 to elect the class commemorating the NFL’s 100th season.

At a meeting in Canton, Ohio, in January 2020, Belichick outlined his definition of a Hall of Famer to the rest of the panel.

“He said, ‘To me, it’s about the ability to win games and play your best against the top competition. Have you won championships?’ ” said Sal Paolantonio, host of ESPN’s “NFL Matchup” and also a voter on the panel. “He basically put into words something that I’ve always considered the No. 1 criteria for Hall of Fame status. To me, that applies to Julian Edelman.”


But not everyone shares that definition. The moment Edelman announced his retirement Monday, it ignited a polarizing debate over his Hall of Fame credentials.

“He’s very unique, because his postseason résumé is more impressive than his regular-season résumé,” said Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, a Hall voter for five years. “There’s not a whole lot of precedence for the Hall of Fame.”

Edelman, who is not eligible for the Hall until 2026, will help define what it means to be a Hall of Famer. Is it about statistics and honors like All-Pro and the Pro Bowl, or is it about iconic moments, clutch play, and championships?

“I can’t wait to be able to chew on it, decipher it, because there’s not many better inside receivers in history,” said the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain, a voter for 28 years. “Edelman made enough big plays in his career for me to keep an open mind.”

Of the six Hall of Fame voters contacted for this story, two stated that they probably will vote for Edelman, and four expressed doubts.

“He was tough, he was gritty, had the big catch in Super Bowl LI,” said one voter, who wasn’t authorized to use his name. “But that’s not going to get you in the Hall of Fame. You’ll get Ring of Honor in New England, but I don’t think it’s going to end in Canton.”


Edelman’s regular-season accomplishments probably would get him scoffed out of the room. He ranks 75th all time in catches (620), 155th in receiving yards (6,822), and tied for 260th in touchdowns (36). In 12 seasons, Edelman was never named All-Pro or even to a Pro Bowl. Also potentially hurting his candidacy is a four-game PED suspension he served in 2018.

“I tend to value guys where I look at him and say, ‘That was one of the best handful of players at their position over part of their career,’ ” said Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, a voter for seven years. “That might be where I have a little bit of a hang-up with Edelman, that I’ve never viewed him in that class of wide receiver.”

Edelman by the numbers Where Julian Edelman ranks in NFL history in key statistical categories.
Regular season Postseason
Yards 155th (6,822) 2nd (1,442)
Catches 75th (620) 2nd (118)
Touchdowns T-260th (36) T-46th (5)
Third down percentage 245th (71.6 pct) 26th (97.1 pct)

But Edelman was a central figure in the Patriots dynasty and of the last decade of the NFL. He won three rings, a Super Bowl MVP, caught a Super Bowl-winning touchdown against the Seahawks, and authored one of the NFL’s most iconic catches with his fingertip grab against the Falcons.

Edelman is second all time behind Jerry Rice in postseason catches (118) and yards (1,442). He also caught more passes from Tom Brady (572) than any player in Patriots history.


“To me, he checks all the boxes,” said longtime NFL writer Gary Myers, a Hall voter for 12 years. “This game’s all about winning, and his biggest numbers came in the biggest games, and that’s what a Hall of Fame receiver does.

“Where he ranks on the all-time list as far as catches and yards you say, ‘No, that isn’t a Hall of Famer.’ And you flip to January, and his numbers jump off the page at you.”

Despite having a fascinating résumé, Edelman probably will have a tough time earning election. The 48 Hall of Fame voters narrow the class to 25 players, then 15, then 10, before electing five players each year.

Edelman’s case, with no All-Pros or Pro Bowls, will not look great compared with Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, and others. Edelman had two seasons of 100 catches and two more seasons with 90-plus, but he was never considered an elite receiver compared with his peers.

Former Steelers receiver Hines Ward isn’t in the Hall, yet he seems to have a better résumé than Edelman in every way: 1,000 catches, a Super Bowl MVP, two rings, four Pro Bowls, and three All-Pros.

“I think getting into the top 15 is going to be a struggle for him,” Maiocco said. “But if he can get there, then more light can be shed on the overall impact, and especially what he did during the postseason.”

Julian Edelman played 11 seasons for the Patriots.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Edelman’s postseason numbers can be explained in part by opportunity; he got to play with Brady and Belichick, and other receivers didn’t.


“This isn’t a knock on Julian, but the postseason success that Edelman enjoyed is the only reason he will receive Hall of Fame consideration,” said Hall voter Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL.

Not many players get into the Hall of Fame without an extensive regular-season résumé. Broncos running back Terrell Davis played only seven seasons and was elected in 2017 largely on the strength of his two Super Bowl runs in 1997-98, but he also was a three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, the 1998 MVP, and he had a 2,000-yard rushing season.

Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is another future candidate who offers a parallel to Edelman. Manning, eligible in 2025, was only 117-117 in his career as a starter and made the playoffs in only six out of 14 full seasons. But his postseason résumé, including two incredible Super Bowl runs in 2007 and 2011, could eventually get him into the Hall.

Of course, Manning was a quarterback, and Edelman is a wide receiver.

“We all look at championships, especially when it comes to quarterbacks, as a huge part of the résumé,” Birkett said. “But I’ve never gotten the sense that the voting bloc as a whole puts as much stock into championships when it comes to other positions.”

“No one ever says, ‘What’s that wide receiver’s win-loss record?’ ” Maiocco added.

But Edelman definitely will be in the conversation for the Hall of Fame. And he just might change the definition of what it means to be a Hall of Famer.


“I can flat-out tell you, I will be voting for Julian Edelman to get into the Hall of Fame,” Paolantonio said. “His postseason performance stands up better than anyone but Jerry Rice. That’s a pretty good sentence when you’re making a case to put Julian Edelman in the Hall of Fame.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.