While it’s certainly not great news that Julian Edelman is expected to miss three weeks with a finger injury, the timing could actually prove beneficial.
The news came rocketing in like an ace pitcher’s best fastball on Monday: Patriots star receiver Julian Edelman had been spotted with a brace over his left thumb (though somewhat obscured by his trademark red glove) at his youth football camp. The expectation, according to league sources cited in the ESPN report, was that Edelman would miss at least three weeks while rehabbing the injury.
The predominant spin on the story across most media circuits was that New England was once more beset by a major offensive setback. In a Super Bowl-winning offseason that should have been all celebrations and parties, here again was another blow to the defending champions, who had already suffered the suspension of Josh Gordon, the departure of Rob Gronkowski, and injuries of varying significance to Sony Michel, Demaryius Thomas, and others.
This is all not to mention the uncertainty surrounding the left tackle position (and Isaiah Wynn’s health and readiness to assume it), as well as Tom Brady’s ongoing status as a lame-duck quarterback without a contract extension.
Add it all up, and it’s easy to understand why the gloom-and-doom peddlers have been out in full force for the Patriots all spring and summer. An already-robust chorus of voices that have been clamoring for the end of the dynasty seem to find more and more proof each and every week, even with the start of the regular season still over 45 days away.
Edelman was supposed to be the one player on New England’s offense untouched by injury, uncertainty, or controversy this offseason. The reigning Super Bowl MVP has been consistently in the headlines for months now as he’s toured to promote his documentary film and himself, making the most public appearances of any Patriot since the Super Bowl (Gronk doesn’t count as a retiree, obviously).
And now he’s presumably out for all of New England’s training camp, and maybe longer, depending on severe his injury is and how quickly he can get back on the field and catching passes.
The Patriots will no doubt miss his veteran presence, as he’s arguably just as important as wide receivers coach Joe Judge when it comes to instructing the young wideouts in the intricacies of route-running and getting on the same page as their future Hall of Fame quarterback. He’s already notably spent time working out with first-round pick N’Keal Harry.
What most media reports are missing out on, though, is the silver lining behind Edelman’s absence from portions of training camp and the preseason. For as long as he’s out of commission, the much less-heralded players in the Patriots’ receivers room will have their opportunities to show what they can do… and that’s a good thing for New England.
Harry is obviously a roster lock no matter what happens during training camp – that’s the upside to being a first-round draft pick. Every other receiver on the roster is fighting for significant reps this season, and Edelman’s absence just opened the door for every one of them to state their case for why they should be heavily involved in the Patriots’ passing attack this season.
Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, and Dontrelle Inman all have varying degrees of legitimate experience as starting-caliber receivers in the NFL, and yet all are far from being considered pivotal or permanent features in this offense.
Dorsett has had his moments in a Patriots uniform, but he’s still a major disappointment considering Indianapolis took him in the first round back in 2015. Harris fits the mold of the prototypical Patriots player – versatile, shifty, and a skilled technician – but he never really made a name for himself in Washington. And it’s been years since Inman was considered a first-string weapon on the Chargers.
All three stand to benefit immediately from Edelman’s open share of reps.
Also joining the party should be Braxton Berrios, a 2018 draft pick of New England’s who missed most of the season due to injury. Berrios was a minicamp darling back in June, and many sportswriters have him surviving all the camp roster cut-downs to make the final 53-man roster come September.
That is, if he manages to a.) stay healthy, b.) build on his momentum from last month, and c.) seize the opportunity before him. Especially with Edelman injured, Chris Hogan in Carolina, and Danny Amendola long gone, there exists a real vacancy for a complementary piece to Edelman and Harry in the slot… Berrios could have the inside track to that position if he beats out Harris.
The morale of the story: while it’s far from ideal any time a star player suffers an injury or ailment, it’s at least encouraging to note that said player’s injury opens up the door for a real competition between players at a position of minor mystery for the Patriots… at at the perfect time, too.