When Julian Edelman decided to retire on Monday, the most surprising part of his announcement might have actually come before his announcement, when the Patriots decided to cut him just hours before he officially retired.
When the Patriots released Edelman, it wasn't yet clear that he was going to retire, and that immediately started some speculation that he might look to join Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. However, that speculation came to a quick end after Edelman announced on social media that he was going to hang up his cleats for good.
If you're wondering why the Patriots cut Edelman just before his retirement, there's actually a good reason for it: It will allow him the opportunity to collect up to $2 million through the NFL's injury protection benefit.
By having his contract terminated for a failed physical today, former Patriots' WR Julian Edelman now becomes eligible for injury protection benefit, per the CBA, available to all players in this situation. Edelman can collect up to $2 million through this benefit.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 12, 2021
The way this benefit works is a little complicated, but it goes like this: If a player gets injured in one season and is physically unable to play the following season and then has his contract terminated (with one or more years still remaining) before the following season starts, then the player is entitled to 100 percent of his base salary -- up to $2 million -- for the following year. In Edelman's case, he got injured in 2020 and he got cut with one year left on his deal with the presumption that he likely wasn't going to be able to play in 2021 due to his injury.
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Under his final contract with the Patriots, Edelman was scheduled to make $2.8 million in 2021, which means he'll be entitled to the entire $2 million of the injury protection benefit. If Edelman had NOT been cut and had simply announced his retirement, he would have received nothing. His contract simply would have tolled and the Patriots would have owned his rights for one more year if he ever decided to return to football.
Since he got released, Edelman is now basically getting a $2 million retirement gift from the Patriots, who didn't have to go this route (Rob Gronkowski also retired with one-year left on his contract, but the Patriots didn't release him. As a matter of fact, the Patriots still owned his rights for one more year when he came out of retirement which is why the Buccaneers had to trade for him and couldn't just simply sign him).
The fact that Edelman got released means he could technically sign with another team, but if he does that, he won't get the $2 million injury protection benefit, which is one reason why he likely won't be coming back even if Gronk thinks that's what's going to happen (Our Tyler Sullivan outlined a few other reasons why he likely won't be coming back and you can check those out by clicking here).
Everyone in the Patriots organization seemed to love Edelman, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that the team did him right by allowing him the chance to collect on the $2 million.
"Julian Edelman is one of the great success stories in our franchise's history," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement on Monday. "There aren't many players who earn an NFL roster spot at a position they have never played before. Julian not only did that as a seventh-round draft selection, but he is retiring with the second-most career receptions in franchise history and as a three-time Super Bowl champion, including his last as Super Bowl MVP. No one was more committed to his craft and honing his skills than Jules."
If Edelman does end up collecting on the injury protection benefit, only $1.2 million of the $2 million will count against the Patriots salary cap in 2021.