Daily Patriots Notebook 3/7: Edelman’s Return Should Spark a Big Improvement in 2018

Ian Logue
March 7, 2018 at 8:36 am ET

Looking back at the 2017 regular season, one of the biggest things that stood out for the Patriots was the fact that they managed to win 13 games despite struggling to move the chains more than they have in recent years.

Obviously, Julian Edelman’s absence played a significant role in those problems during this past season and looking at the third-down numbers over the course of the regular season, Tom Brady finished with his lowest completion percentage on third down for the first time since 2011, completing under 60% of those attempts for the first time since 2013.

Here’s a quick rundown of Brady’s third-down totals going back to that season:

2011: 80-of-139 (57.6%) 1012yds, 9 TDs, 2 INTs
2012: 92-of-150 (61.3%) 1133yds, 13 TDs, 1INT
2013: 96-of-161 (59.6%) 990yds, 8 TDs, 4 INTs
2014: 88-of-145 (60.7%) 1041yds, 10 TDs, 3 INTs
2015: 92-of-145 (63.4%) 1147yds, 10 TDs, 2 INTs
2016:  82-of-123 (66.7%) 1289yds, 11 TDs, 1 INT
2017: 81-of-140 (57.9%) 1019yds, 9 TDs, 6 INTs

Many will likely remember that following Wes Welker’s departure that offseason – and Danny Amendola’s addition – 2013 was Edelman’s breakout season.  The receiver came in and took over the lead role, finishing with his first thousand-yard season (1056yds) and found himself with even more pressure on him following Rob Gronkowski’s devastating knee injury in Week 14 that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

The following season, Edelman was comfortable in his role and it was he and Gronkowski who carried the load on third down, with both players catching a combined 44 passes and with 36 first downs.

The result?  The team’s first Super Bowl title in 10-years.

In 2015 Edelman suffered a foot injury that knocked him out of the regular season and seemed to re-aggravate it in the postseason when he finally returned, which you could tell limited his effectiveness in the AFC Championship loss in Denver.  Without a healthy Edelman, it was obvious how important he was and how much the injury ultimately cost the team another championship run.

But in 2016, Edelman completely took over, catching 28 passes on third down with 24 first downs, which is an absolutely remarkable success rate.  The amazing thing about that is the fact he did it after Gronkowski went down in Week 12 after re-aggravating a back injury against the Jets, which he originally sustained against Seattle two weeks earlier.

Thanks to Edelman’s efforts, Brady ended up finishing the season completing nearly 70% of his passes on third down.

The result, again?  Yet another championship.

It’s just a reminder of how important his return will be next season, especially if he’s even able to be close to the same player he was prior to his knee injury.  Joining Edelman will hopefully be Malcolm Mitchell, who himself caught 10 of his 15 targets that year with 9 first downs when called upon on third down as a rookie.  The obvious question mark will be the future of Gronkowski, which remains uncertain as he continues teetering on retirement.  However, as we learned, with Edelman, they have the ability to play at a championship level, which should hopefully put a few minds at ease in the event Gronkowski chooses to walk away.

Flores gets a shot, without the pressure – Another bit of news that came out yesterday was the fact according to Yahoo! Sports Charles Robinson, linebackers coach Brian Flores will inherit the responsibility of calling the defensive plays in 2018, but he won’t reportedly be promoted to defensive coordinator.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone as that’s how Bill Belichick has handled things on both sides of the football.  It works out well as it causes any issues to fall on him while taking the pressure off of Flores during the transition.  They’re no stranger to this approach, as Matt Patricia wasn’t named as defensive coordinator until 2012 after former coordinator Dean Pees departed following the 2009 campaign.

As a result, it should be interesting to see how it pans out next season for a group that was inconsistent in 2017 and has the sting of a poor performance in the Super Bowl to hopefully motivate them heading into 2018.

Alan Branch’s time in New England appears to be over.

Branch is Out, Britt is In – With free agency closing in, the Patriots have apparently already made up their minds about a couple of their players.

According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the Patriots have informed defensive tackle Alan Branch that they won’t be picking up his $1 million option for the 2018 season.

As we mentioned yesterday, following previous reports the news doesn’t come as a surprise given that Branch has already been talking about the team in the past tense and this news simply means he’ll hit the free agent market and move on.

Reiss points out that moving on from Branch will save the team about $3 million in cap space, giving them somewhere between $17 million and $18 million to work with.

He also reports that the team did pick up receiver Kenny Britt’s $150,000 option, which should create some competition in camp and also provides some additional insurance should either Edelman or Mitchell suffer any setbacks, or, as we unfortunately learned last year, in the event they were to lose anyone to injury in the preseason.

Gronk still exploring his options – Speaking of the passing game, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Gronkowski and it appears that he’s still potentially exploring his options outside of football.

The latest speculation surrounds the talk of his interest in pursuing an acting career, which saw him spotted on Monday at a Hollywood Casting agency.

According to @mambochicken on Twitter, the agency he was at is responsible for Handmaid’s Tale and The Walking Dead, so it’s definitely worth noting that he was there.

That same Twitter user also claims Gronk was meeting there about a possible movie role.

While none of this speculation is confirmed, the fact he was there appears to be true.  Not that any of us can blame Gronk for choosing to no longer absorb big hits from linebackers and defensive backs by choosing acting over putting the pads back on.

Regardless of whatever decision he eventually makes, it will obviously play a big part in what happens with this team moving forward.  The biggest concern for fans who have followed this team since Belichick arrived should be the fact it took a long time to find him (he was drafted in 2010, 10-years following Belichick’s arrival in 2000).  He’s definitely a unique player, and it makes you wonder just how long it might be before the team finds anyone close to him ever again.

That reality will eventually come.  All fans can do until his decision is made is hope there’s still some time left for watching #87 throw down a few more Gronk spikes before it’s over.