Julian Edelman signed a two-year extension with the Patriots on Thursday to keep him under contract through the 2019 season.
We haven’t seen full details yet, but per ESPN, the deal comes with a $5 million signing bonus and will pay Edelman base salaries of $3 million, $2 million, and $2 million the next three seasons, with $1.5 million more available in bonuses and incentives in 2017 and 2018 and $4.5 million available in 2019. So that’s three years and somewhere between $12 million and $19 million, based on health and performance.
Some thoughts on the move:
1. Good for Edelman. In a league where five-year free agent deals really mean “two years and we’ll see,” Edelman saw his four-year contract from 2014 all the way through, then got another two years tacked on. While he’s not getting elite dollars, Edelman makes up for it off the field with endorsements and opportunities that come from being Tom Brady’s sidekick. Most NFL players never make it to a second contract, and Edelman is now on his fourth.
2. This is mostly about the Patriots hooking up Edelman in the short term. Edelman was entering the final year of his previous contract, and, with his new contract, his 2017 pay remains the same — a maximum of $4.5 million based on health and performance — plus a $5 million signing bonus. It’s the same signing bonus he got with his 2014 contract.
3. We say “maximum of $4.5 million” because Edelman has $750,000 tied to being active on game day ($46,875 per game), $500,000 for on-field incentives, and $250,000 for participating in offseason workouts (which he did). He has basically the same terms for 2018, but in 2019 he has a whopping $3.5 million in incentives.
4. Interestingly, the potential $9.5 million payout for Edelman in 2017 is just about the same as Wes Welker had in his final season with the Patriots, when he played for a $9.515 million franchise tag in 2012 (although the hunch here is the Patriots split Edelman’s signing bonus into a $2.5 million payment now and $2.5 million next March).
5. Edelman certainly earned the bonus. He had 98 catches for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, then added 21 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs, including the season-saving fingertip grab in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Also notably, Edelman played in all 19 games after coming off a foot injury in 2015.
6. The contract seems a little low for someone who might be even more important than Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots’ offense. But while Edelman maybe left a few dollars on the table, his skills don’t translate to big dollars on the NFL’s free agent market. The receivers that get paid are tall and make big plays down the field, and that’s not Edelman’s game.
Edelman was fourth in the NFL with 98 catches last year, but it’s a bit misleading.
Since emerging as Brady’s top target in 2013, Edelman has averaged 69.6 yards per game (last year was 69.1, 15th best among receivers and tight ends). He averaged 11.3 yards per catch last year, ranking 80th among 154 qualifying players. He tied for 85th with three touchdown catches. He had just one catch over 40 yards, the 77-yard touchdown sprung by Michael Floyd’s block. Among the top 50 receivers, Edelman was 34th in first-down percentage (56.1 percent of catches).
Edelman also is 31, and has had a recurring foot problem that cost him a good chunk of the 2015 season. So three years and $12 million to $19 million seems pretty realistic given how he fits within the NFL landscape.
7. Finally, it’s interesting to see the Patriots re-sign Edelman at 31 after they had a messy divorce with Welker at age 32. There’s no doubt that Edelman is more clutch than Welker was and has arguably been a better fit for the offense. But the biggest reason is that Edelman is willing to play ball with the Patriots, and Welker was not.
Welker’s relationship soured with the Patriots after he received the franchise tag in 2012, and in 2013 they parted ways after a contentious free agent negotiation. After Welker signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos, Robert Kraft revealed that the Patriots pulled a two-year, incentive-laden offer off the table when Welker’s demands exceeded their budget, and they turned instead to Danny Amendola.
Welker ended up making $21 million from 2012-14 with the Patriots and Broncos. Edelman’s contract that he signed in 2014 paid him $13.67 million over the last three years, and Edelman now has a chance to make somewhere between $12.25 million and $19 million over the next three years.
Follow Ben Volin on Twitter @BenVolin.