It’s better to be lucky than good. It’s best to be both.
Four years ago, Trent Brown was a rookie seventh-round pick languishing with the 49ers, trying to adjust to being in the NFL, keep his weight down and play right tackle.
This week, he’ll become the highest-paid offensive lineman in pro football history. Not because he’s the best offensive lineman in pro football history but because a confluence of circumstances made him the most attractive option when the money spigot got turned on full blast.
Same scenario for Trey Flowers. Four years ago, he was a fourth-round pick with an injured shoulder relegated to watching for almost his entire rookie season. Now? The full value of his contract with the Lions may approach $90M. For useless comparison, the highest salary ever paid a defensive player in 1990 was $1.35M to Reggie White.
At the other end of the spectrum – at least financially – is Julian Edelman. “Unlucky” would be the wrong adjective to apply to a guy whose career dovetailed with the height of Tom Brady’s powers. (Disclosure, I wrote a book with Edelman. Buy the thing if you want)
But the notion that a player named Adam Humphries is signing with Tennessee for a projected four years and $36M while Edelman’s made about $26.5M in his 10-year CAREER playing the same position should at least make Edelman wonder “what if?”
Why is Edelman underpaid relative to lesser receivers? Is he getting hosed? Actually, it’s complicated.
The arc of Edelman’s financial career is anything but a graceful parabola.
In June of 2017, fresh off the team’s SB51 win over the Falcons, Edelman’s deal was set to expire at the end of the year. Coming off a 98-catch, 1,106-yard regular season and an outstanding postseason complete with an iconic Super Bowl moment, Edelman would be in a position to get really big dough if he played out the year.
Instead, he passed on the chance to become unrestricted in March of 2018 and instead signed a two-year, $11M extension. Bad move?
Not when you consider that, two months after signing the extension, Edelman blew out his ACL and missed the entire 2017 season. What would he have made in unrestricted free agency as a 32-year-old slot receiver in 2018 with a knee that wouldn’t pass a physical? Not a lot, probably.
So the extension – even though it kept him off the market – was protection and security.
The really “bad” luck Edelman had came in 2012. He was entering the final year of his rookie deal and hadn’t made inroads in the regular offense because he was marooned behind Wes Welker.
Welker wanted a long-term deal and got franchised instead to the tune of $9M. He was pissed. He didn’t prepare as hard for the 2012 season. Meanwhile, Edelman was a beast in training camp and actually outplayed Welker. Then he hurt his ankle in Week 2, played just nine games and finished the year with 21 passes.
When it came time to figure out who would replace Welker, the Patriots chose Danny Amendola. He got five years and a max value of $31M. Edelman signed a one-year deal worth $715,000.
He went out and caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards but – after just a brief free agent dalliance – Edelman re-signed for four years and $17M in March of 2014.
What he’s done since then in the playoffs and regular season has taken the slot receiver position to a new level.
As the contracts for Humphries and Jamison Crowder (reportedly three years, $28.5M with $17M guaranteed from the Jets coming off a production-limiting injury in 2018) demonstrate, slots (or guys who can produce in there) are beginning to see a bump commensurate with their impact.
A lot of that is thanks to Edelman who – despite often having his production dismissed as being the by-product of a system – has taken the position to a place beyond where it was when Welker was the gold standard
Then, slot receivers were seen as somewhat of an offensive crutch. Now, they are rightfully being viewed as a springboard to making the entire offense better – tight end, quarterback, running game and outside receivers.
The chance exists that there’s a player out there (Golden Tate?) that may still be on the Patriots wish list. Which leads to the question of whether Edelman’s salary should make the Patriots think twice about paying a similar or lesser player more.
I would hope not. The NFL still practices capitalism inside their socialist model. If the market dictates in 2019 that a good wideout makes more than he did when Edelman re-upped, such is life.
Edelman can pound on the glass and ask, “Where’s mine?” and maybe conscience kicks in for the Patriots and they throw a sweetener or incentive on his deal and maybe they don’t.
If they don’t and it comes to pass that somebody (Golden Tate?) comes in making a crapton more than both Edelman and Gronk, maybe Edelman can be Mr. Big Chest 2.0 and try to shoot his way out of town.
I don’t think either of the above scenarios are likely, though.
I think Edelman is a realist and realizes that 2017 extension was a blessing, not a mistake.
I think he’s a pragmatist and realizes that, if somebody comes in at a higher rate and helps them win, that’s good for the brand and what’s good for the brand is good for the balance sheet.
I think that, being around Tom Brady as long as he’s been, Edelman’s realized your lifetime earning power because you are with the Patriots right now is more important than your 2019 W4.
On one hand, Edelman’s timing hasn’t been great. But when you tilt it just a little and look at it differently? It couldn’t have been better.
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