Tom Brady isn't the only longtime New England Patriots star now playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On Tuesday, one of Brady's top all-time targets, Rob Gronkowski, to manufacture a move to Tampa, where he'll reunite with No. 12 for the 2020 season.
The collective southern migration of Brady and Gronk isn't just a story that would've sounded ludicrous a year ago. It's also spawned countless memes suggesting Julian Edelman, another of Brady's famous pass-catcher friends from New England, could be the next to go. If the Pats were willing to part with two icons, after all, what's stopping them from shipping away a third?
It's a valid question, and considering what lies just around the corner, it's best not to rule anything out regarding Edelman, who's spent all 11 seasons of his NFL career in Foxborough. The Bill Belichick-led Patriots are historically active when it comes to trading during the draft, and with Brady out of town, New England might end up using every bargaining chip it has in order to land a top QB.
Dig a little deeper, however, and it seems pretty unlikely Edelman will be playing anywhere but New England in 2020.
Let's start with the obvious: The Patriots should be adding wide receivers, not giving them away.
Aside from Edelman, here's who headlines New England's WR corps: N'Keal Harry, a first-rounder who had seven catches in his 12-game debut; Mohamed Sanu, a soon-to-be 31-year-old coming off ankle surgery and an underwhelming Patriots debut; Damiere Byrd, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder with six career starts; Jakobi Meyers, an undrafted 2019 reserve; and Matthew Slater, a career special teamer whose last and only NFL catch came nine years ago.
But this is a rebuild! They don't need Edelman anyway!
Not so fast. Brady was a six-time Super Bowl champion QB who opted to test free agency and wanted a fresh start. Gronkowski held all the leverage in his return, with the freedom to either stay home or demand a reunion with Tom. Edelman doesn't fit into either of those categories. He's an aging wideout who remains under a team-friendly contract through 2021. Most of all, he's the prototypical holdover for a rebuild -- gritty more than flashy, reliable at his job, and an absolute target machine (i.e. a confidence-builder) for a new QB.
"I don't see him leaving," one league source told CBS Sports, noting the Pats value his "organizational leadership."
If you're the Patriots, what's worth more: What Edelman gives your transitioning team and/or QB for at least one year, or whatever trade compensation someone gives you for Edelman? Before you rush to answer, consider where Edelman is at in his career. This is a soon-to-be 34-year-old slot WR who's missed an average of 2.5 games per year since 2014. Yes, he caught 100 balls in 2019, but he's also only ever played with Brady. With a heralded rookie WR class at teams' fingertips, what is he even worth?
Maybe the Patriots are desperate to free up salary cap space, but if Edelman is dealt before June 1, he saves them a whopping $4.33 million. (After June 1: $7 million.) Again, the question becomes: Is it worth it? Or might New England prefer to pay his very reasonable $9.66 million cap hit in 2020 -- ranked 26th among WRs, behind the likes of Albert Wilson, Adam Humphries and Jamison Crowder -- and re-evaluate in 2021? After this season, they only owe Edelman $6.6M for the final year of his deal.
And, hey, could Edelman himself demand a trade? It's not impossible, but unlike his departed comrades, he's not exactly bursting with leverage.
If you're looking for the "next" Patriot to be sent elsewhere, the truth is you'd probably be better off looking elsewhere on the roster -- perhaps even on Edelman's side of the ball. Franchise-tagged left guard Joe Thuney is with the team and figures to be dangled in draft-day trade talks. The running back position, meanwhile, is crowded as per New England's wishes, but veterans like James White and Rex Burkhead could easily be auctioned (White to the Bucs, anyone?) with younger talent in Sony Michel and Damien Harris already in tow.