The Canton Case for Edelman

The concept that surrounds the phrase “football immortality” is that the Hall of Fame is set up to be this impenetrable existence. In the eyes of the voters, you are required to be one of the most dominating contributors to a football program throughout your existence in the National Football League. For me, this is accurate. You can’t accept too many applications because then the significance of the club is tampered. But as of right now, the waiting line is too long, with too many qualified players looking from the outside in.

After 56 years of existence, there are currently 318 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In today’s game, there are 704 starters on a field any given Sunday (22 starters x 32 teams). The league has been expanding ever since the creation of professional football in 1920. Even when you go back the 100 or so years to the inaugural 1920 season, there were roughly 308 starters each week (22 starters x 14 teams).

Since it’s easier to google, rather than calculating myself, Reddit suggests that through the year 2014 there had been approximately 24,414 careers in the NFL.

The point I’m making is that those in the Hall of Fame are part of the top 1.3 percent to ever play. That percentage is only going down as 225 or so players are added each draft. It’s really really really hard to make it.

When I think of the Hall of Fame, I think of players from their era that impacted the game in a way that left a phenomenal impression on a generation of fans, statistically excelled above their peers, changed the game and/or the course of history, or left an everlasting mark on the storybook that is the NFL. Those who acquire a gold jacket are those who were the highest of leaders, warriors, and performers for their organization(s).

With that, there’s no set amount of boxes that need to be checked, as each era, player, story, and position is different from the next.

Currently, there is no concrete set of rules to follow in regards to voting players into the HOF, but most of the time it’s easy to look at players or coaches and figure whether or not they belong in Canton.

For example:

No-Brainers — Brett Favre, Cris Carter, Jackie Slater, Dick Lane, Ray Lewis, etc.

Eventual No-Brainers — Troy Polamalu, Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Steve Hutchinson, Joe Thomas, etc.

Active No-Brainers — Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Antonio Gates, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, JJ Watt, etc.

But where the system gets interesting is where the voters decide to draw the line. Again, with no concrete rubric to follow, why do we fall to statistics or imaginary guidelines for other players?

Look no further than Terrell Owens. He was incredibly disrespected by not being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Terrell freaking Owens. Why did he need to wait? The second he was eligible, the HOF family should have dragged him into the building.

Why did Jerry Kramer have to wait so long? Or Ty Law? Or Ken Stabler?

Why hasn’t Isaac Bruce been enshrined? Or Torry Holt? Or Chuck Howley? Devin Hester? Jim Marshall? Reggie Wayne?

There are so many impactful, unbelievable players that haven’t and possibly won’t be elected into the Hall of Fame. These players are on that bubble because we refuse to adapt the rules for this or expand classes.

Another player that will be on the bubble is the Super Bowl 53 MVP, Julian Edelman.

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Julian Edelman’s 10 receptions for 141 yards earned him SB53 MVP — Photo Credit — Sports Illustrated

The idea of Edelman joining football immortality has gained attention because the great Jerry Rice said he believes that Edelman should be elected. When someone of Rice’s magnitude says something like this, you listen. Boomer Esiason added, “He is, in my eyes, truly the definition of a Hall of Famer: make the play when the play needs to be made in the biggest games to win the game.”

While many debated the subject leading up to the Super Bowl, the most common disapproval was the fact that Edelman doesn’t have the eye-popping statistics as a Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, or high-caliber wide receiver. But that’s fine, that’s what gives those special talents first-ballot honors.

The counter-argument is that in the history of the National Football League, only Jerry Rice has more postseason receptions and yards than Julian Edelman — 115 receptions 1,412 yards in 18 career playoff games. Year in and year out, who has been more impactful in the playoffs at Edelman’s position? Seriously, let me know once you come up with an answer — tweet me, text me, email me, whatever.

With the postseason statistics, Edelman has proven himself time and time again on the big stage of the Divisional Round, AFC Championship Game, and Super Bowls. Plural. He doesn’t have the sexy counting stats as some of the Pro Bowl guys, but he’s also primarily playing out of the slot, in a system that requires great instincts and intelligence, as much as spreading the wealth. His dominance comes during the postseason against the strongest competition the league has to offer, yet it’s Edelman who is running loose, as the other great receivers in this league are being taken out of those same games.

In the words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” What more could you want out of a receiver?

We’ve seen great players like Wes Welker, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch play in this same role, but nobody has been more successful with their opportunity as Edelman. All-time great receivers like Chad Johnson and Reggie Wayne have shown that they can dominate in the NFL, but admitted to having major difficulty picking up the offensive assignments they were given.

Julian Edelman is quite possibly the greatest third down player in the history of football. He has many signature moments over the course of his playoff career with the Patriots and the three Super Bowls that they’ve won together. He is the go-to receiver/safety net/chain-mover of the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Without Edelman, it’s difficult to assume the Patriots would still defeat the Seahawks, Falcons, and Rams. He’s the greatest receiver in the history of the league’s greatest franchise. I think those accomplishments and titles hold more weight than the difference between his numbers and some of the receivers already in the Hall of Fame, or those who are waiting.

Year in and year out we’ve watched Julian Edelman get open in the most crucial moments under the brightest of lights, yet it feels that he has always been the unsung hero of this second dynasty that the Patriots reinvented. You’ve got Brady, Belichick, and even Gronkowski, but at the end of the day, Edelman has been right there with these guys making spectacular play after spectacular play.

Through nine seasons, Edelman only has 499 catches, 5,390 yards, and 30 touchdowns. You look at those numbers and don’t think much of them at all. Sometimes, the story lies deeper than the numbers.

But with those numbers, comes the value that Edelman has contributed to the great dynasty that is the New England Patriots. For a team that has been built on the back of the greatest to ever touch a football, they’ve never targeted a receiver over and over, gathering the high numbers, unless you count a season with Randy Moss. And even he failed to top 100 catches. Brady has always spread the ball around, peppering the best matchups, hitting the open receivers, and following an always-changing offensive scheme.

Despite that, over the most important stretch of Brady’s career, anytime he has needed to be bailed out or needs someone to make a play, it most commonly comes back to Edelman. And, for the record, he has always delivered.

If you watch this game and don’t think that postseason success, big-ball performances, and big-stage heroics aren’t important, then what are you watching for?

The Patriots are special. They have been for 20 years. As soon as next season and as long as forever, when opposing players walk into Gillette Stadium they’ll look up at the six championship banners and understand the greatness that is in front of them. And of those six championship banners, Julian Edelman has had a colossal effort in raising three of them.

The toughness displayed from Julian Edelman in January and February is contagious and that’s evident if you’ve watched any of the Patriots last three Super Bowl titles, or the playoff runs to reach those titles. He’s as much the tone-setter for this football team as he is captain cool when the money is on the table. Each crushing hit he deflects is a direct delivery to the drumbeat that Edelman and the Patriots march to.

By no means am I arguing that Edelman is one of the most talented receivers we’ve ever seen. By no means am I arguing that he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the man is an ELITE football player of the highest order. Are there players more deserving? Certainly, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be included as well. With what we’ve seen Edelman do, and the way we’ve seen him impact the history of this era, if he isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame, what’re we even doing?

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