For more than a decade Julian Edelman lived the ultimate NFL underdog story, going from undersized college quarterback to a favorite option of Tom Brady on three Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning teams.
He says he’ll leave the league after giving everything he had to the sport.
Citing a knee injury that cut his 2020 season short after just six games, Edelman announced Monday that he is retiring from the NFL after 11 seasons.
“Nothing in my career has ever come easy. And no surprise, this isn’t going to come easy either,” Edelman said, fighting back tears in a video posted to Twitter. “I’ve always said I’m going to go until the wheels come off. And they finally have fallen off.”
Foxboro Forever pic.twitter.com/x3SDDPJoTX
— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) April 12, 2021
Earlier in the day, the Patriots terminated the contract of the Super Bowl 53 MVP after the receiver failed a physical. Edelman was the first-ever Jewish player named Super Bowl MVP, prompting Israel’s then-ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, to call him a “gridiron Maccabee.”
It brings an abrupt end to the 11-year New England tenure of the 34-year-old, whose fingertip catch helped complete the Patriots’ historic Super Bowl 51 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.
“By any measure of what constitutes an elite NFL career — wins, championships, production — Julian has it all,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. “Few players can match Julian’s achievements, period, but considering his professional trajectory and longevity, the group is even more select. It is historic. This is a tribute to his legendary competitiveness, mental and physical toughness and will to excel.”
Team owner Robert Kraft called Edelman “one of the great success stories in our franchise’s history.”
He appeared in just six games last season before going on injured reserve following a surgical procedure on his knee. He also missed the entire 2017 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Edelman was entering the final season of a two-year, $15.5 million contract. He was facing an uphill climb to make the roster in 2021 following the Patriots’ efforts to remake the receiving group after their struggles last season. This offseason the Patriots have already added receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor in free agency.
A seventh-round pick in the 2009 draft out of Kent State, Edelman retires ranked second in team history with 620 receptions, fourth in receiving yards 6,822 and ninth with 36 receiving touchdowns.
He also had 58 rushing attempts for 413 yards, the most rushing attempts and rushing yards by a wide receiver in Patriots history. His 9,869 all-purpose yards are fourth in team history.
Edelman will be most remembered for what he did during the postseason, though, amassing 118 catches for 1,422 yards and seven touchdowns.
He reached his pinnacle in Super Bowl 53 when he hauled in 10 receptions for 141 yards in helping lift the Patriots to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
That postseason Edelman also tied Dallas’ Michael Irvin for the second-most 100-yard receiving games in the postseason with six, just two behind Jerry Rice’s NFL record.
“Day in and day out, Julian was always the same: all out,” Belichick said. “Then, in the biggest games and moments, with championships at stake, he reached even greater heights and delivered some of his best, most thrilling performances.”
Edelman, now 34, has a Jewish father but was not raised in the religion. It was during his breakout campaign in 2013 that, coincidentally or not, he identified as Jewish in an interview with the NFL Network.
In 2014, he wore a pin featuring the Israeli flag. Edelman has tweeted about Jewish holidays. He even went on a Birthright-style trip to Israel, and in 2019 visited the country with the Patriots’ Jewish owner, Robert Kraft. He wrote a children’s book that references modern-day Zionism founder Theodor Herzl.
After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in the fall that killed 11, he wore special cleats with Hebrew on them to honor the victims.
As a lifelong @Patriots fan, I appreciate what @Edelman11 has brought to #NewEngland on the field. But even as he retires, I hope Jules will continue to use his voice off the field because his leadership is bigger than football.
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) April 12, 2021
Last month, he reached out on social media to NBA center Meyers Leonard, who used an anti-Semitic slur while playing a video game on the public Twitch channel.
“Let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends,” Edelman wrote Leonard. “I’ll show you a fun time.”