Who will win the battle for Tom Brady's on-field affection in 2019?
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. - It's no secret that Tom Brady and Julian Edelman have a sincere affection for each other. It can be seen when they embrace one another on the sideline of a football game, or when they are spending time working out together in the offseason or going to any high-profile event.
That connection the two have built over the past decade is hard to come across nowadays in the NFL. It has also lead to a tremendous amount of success on the playing field and most recently helped the Patriots earn their sixth Super Bowl victory in the Brady-Belichick era. Edelman also earned his first-ever Super Bowl MVP accolade last February because of one simple reason - Brady trusts the 32-year-old in the most crucial of situations.
But could that trust, or on-field affection be shifting towards another wideout this upcoming season?
Drafting receiver N'Keal Harry 32nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft tells us two things: 1) New England desperately needs another big, offensive weapon following the retirement of Rob Gronkowski 2) Investing a first-round pick in a wideout means they plan on Harry being a Patriot for the long run.
You don't draft a player in the first round if don't expect them to be a pivotal piece of your team going forward. We saw that last season with running back Sony Michel, who was a centerpiece for the Patriots in SBLIII when they were trying to close out a game in which New England scored just 13 points.
Harry's impact should be no different in 2019.
We've seen over the years that it does not matter your age, experience or name; if Brady trusts you he will throw you the ball no matter the circumstance. Josh Gordon fit that narrative last season when Brady continually threw him the ball even in times when it was probably not best to do such.
What's important to understand is that Brady doesn't necessarily throw to a wideout based on the play design, but rather based on who he trusts the most. It doesn't matter if it's his 1st read or 4th read on any given play call, Brady will throw the ball to whoever he believes will make the play.
Brady has also come to the realization over the years that when all else fails, Edelman will make a contested catch in the middle of the field and keep a play alive. The former Kent State QB has been Brady's security blanket. But as all good things do, will Edelman's high-level of play, and ultimately the trust between him and his quarterback come to an end? And could it happen as early as this year? It seems more likely than not.
Someone who has taken a beating in the middle of the field as long as Edelman has in the NFL can't play forever, let alone into their mid-30's. That means Edelman has about 1-2 years left in the NFL, and his high-level of play probably won't last that entire stretch.
As Bill Belichick the GM has shown us with draft choices and free agent acquisitions this offseason, New England has very quickly shifted in the opposite direction of the rest of the NFL by adding large wideouts to their roster. Throwing outside the numbers and down the field is something we may see more of in 2019 from a 42-year-old Brady. That, along with a more potent rushing attack (we can save that conversation for another day).
But if this type of passing attack is to take place it means that Edelman would gradually be phased out as Brady's security blanket, as he doesn't fit the mold of a receiver Brady can throw to outside the numbers and down the field, making contested catches above an opponent's secondary.
If that's the case, then Brady's affection will be shifted elsewhere in New England's receiving corps. Harry will likely be the beneficiary of this since he has the greatest promise, has been invested in the most, and can do exactly what the post-Gronk Patriots need from a receiver.
As Tom E. Curran analyzed in his Sunday Notes segment this week, New England's offense has been so productive over the past two decades because of its ability to morph around the players within the system, not vice versa. Having tall, physical receivers means the offense has to change once more from what it has succeeded with in recent memory. That means Brady may have a change of heart in who he relies upon within the offense this upcoming season. The connection between Brady and Edelman won't be completely gone in 2019, but it should gradually phase out over the course of the season.
If there's one thing we know for certain, it's that Edelman will do all he can in 2019 to maintain that affection Brady has to look his way when a play is needed the most. So don't expect the hard-nosed, shifty receiver to roll over and let himself be washed out of the gameplan.