Edelman HOF Debate Misses the Point

Julian Edelman has just retired and the focus should be on what he meant to the New England Patriots and nothing else
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Can’t we just let a guy retire and enjoy the amazing memories of his career for one week?

Obviously not.

Julian Edelman’s retirement this week sparked two things: an outpouring of admiration from former teammates and opponents alike, and an overload of hot-take spinmeisters instantly debating whether the former Patriots receiver belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On NFL Network, Kyle Brandt summed it up best.

“In a lot of ways I think we saw his legacy pour out yesterday. He hadn’t announced his retirement for more than five minutes and a civil war broke out on social media on whether he should be a Hall of Famer,” Brandt said. “People and players are really passionate about Julian Edelman. … For a guy who caught 36 touchdowns and never even made a Pro Bowl ... is he a Hall of Famer? I don’t know, probably not. He’s a legend.”

Whether you want to call it a “civil war” or social media slap fight, or just something to fill air time and internet space because we’re in a down period of the news cycle with still two weeks until the NFL Draft, it’s silly. And former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, now an ESPN talking head, summed up the most hypocritical of takes this week in expressing his negative view of Edelman’s Hall of Fame credentials.

“That’s no disrespect to him, I like him,” Johnson said. “I’ve interviewed him. I think he’s a great young man, the California kid, but don’t do that to guys that are in the Hall of Fame or ones going in the Hall of Fame. To say, based on postseason success, that Julian Edelman is a Hall of Famer, that conversation is not even — like, who wants to have that conversation, though? Seriously.”

If you don’t want to “disrespect” him and don’t want to “have that conversation,” then don’t. It’s very easy, in the world we live in, to talk about his accomplishments, his underdog story, and give him a grand send-off. You can call up all the best moments of his career, which featured 36 receiving touchdowns, 6,822 receiving yards (fourth on the Pats’ all-time list) and 118 postseason catches (second only to Jerry Rice in NFL history) on YouTube.

There were the long punt returns, the amazing touchdown pass in 2019 (Edelman was a quarterback in college, don’t you know?), and the miraculous catch he made in Super Bow LI as part of the Pats’ crazy comeback from 28-3 down against the Atlanta Falcons.

That Super Bowl title was one of three he won with New England. He not only overcame the odds and helped bring championships to Foxboro, he embedded himself in the community and became a Samaritan, as we’ve learned from the countless tales we’ve heard from people he touched over his years here.

Not to give into the debate, but Edelman probably isn’t a Hall of Famer. ProFootballReference.com lists receivers with similar careers to Edelman: Darrell Jackson, Al Toon, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Dwight Clark, Lynn Swann, Terance Mathis, Carl Pickens, Greg Jennings, Jake Reed and Chris Burford. Only Swann from that group is enshrined in Canton, and he had to wait 19 years after his retirement to get elected in 2001.

You know who else isn’t in the Hall of Fame? Torry Holt and Sterling Sharpe, certainly a couple of the greatest receivers of their era.

It’s not an insult to say a guy is not a Hall of Famer. He’ll get his due in a ceremony at Gillette Stadium and he’ll be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame and he’ll be beloved around New England with living legends David Ortiz, Patrice Bergeron and Kevin Garnett — all Boston sports heroes of the same era.

The worst insult is degrading his achievements with nonsensical Hall of Fame debates when the guy’s retirement has barely even begun.