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New England Patriots Analysis: Julian Edelman will be a bigger piece

The New England Patriots submitted an offer sheet for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders yesterday, and it had some fans wondering whether or not the Pats would still re-sign Julian Edelman. The free agent wide receiver received a cold-shouldered free agent market after coming off of a broken foot in 2012 that put him on the IR (he played in just nine games last season after also breaking his hand).

Edelman had only one free agent visit this offseason, and that was a recent one to the New York Giants. However, the Giants never offered him a contract, and it seemed like they were no longer interested following the visit. Yesterday, I tweeted to my followers that I expect the Patriots to re-sign Edelman in addition to adding Sanders, and they proved my prediction right. The USA Today’s Mike Garafolo tweeted the news out yesterday, and he stated that the deal will be for one-year.

The Patriots now know how to use Julian Edelman correctly heading into the 2013 season, because I think the Pats have realized he is not a true slot receiver. They kept using him on short passes until somewhere in the middle of last year. Edelman was let loose against the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets, and we all saw how well that went. He was racking up the touchdowns and big-plays, and the 56-yard touchdown pass he caught against the Jets is an example of the type of plays we are going to see from him next year.

Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe proposed a hybridization theory after the Patriots signed Danny Amendola, and I think Edelman and Emmanuel Sanders fit this hybridization of the Patriots offense. Both players are versatile, in that they can line up both outside and in the slot. Although Sanders is better at stretching the field vertically and Edelman is more possession-based, both players can do a little bit of what the other player is best at.

Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston confirms to us that Edelman has indeed improved his straight-line speed over the past year, and that was the reason for him getting more playing time and making those big plays against the Colts and Jets. The Patriots coaching staff realized this improvement and started to use him in that optimal manner. Reiss writes that he “opened eyes”, but the big key for Edelman is health.

It’s crazy to think that the Patriots picked up Edelman on a cheap, one-year deal, but that’s how things go when an injury-prone player hits the free agent market. Edelman has made strides over the past season, and he’s also proven to be a solid punt returner. The improvements he has made as far as speed goes have allowed him to stretch the field vertically, and the Patriots organization has certainly taken notice. I’m glad to hear that Edelman is in the Patriots future plans, and I’m not surprised to hear this either. If he can stay healthy, then I think Edelman is a strong candidate for a breakout season. Of course, the fact that the Patriots have decided to re-sign Edelman is not a surprise.

Julian Edelman was more important to the Patriots than anybody else, especially with a revamped wide receiver corps. It pays to have continuity with at least one player, especially when that player has not fulfilled their potential yet. The Patriots are going to see to it that they can develop this wide receiver, and he is going to be a bigger piece in 2013 than he was ever before. Because if he can stay healthy, he’s going to be used like he was against the Colts and Jets for the entire season. Will he have great numbers? No. Will he add a new dimension to the Pats offense and be another versatile weapon for other teams to have to defend? Yes.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Emmanuel Sanders ESPN Boston Julian Edelman Mike Garafolo Mike Reiss New England Patriots NFL Free Agency USA Today

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