Edelman's 'return' critical for Patriots

Thoughts on the Patriots and receiver/punt returner Julian Edelman agreeing to terms Saturday:

What a difference a year makes. When Edelman re-signed with the team last year, it was a one-year deal close to the minimum. The re-signing wasn't viewed by many as a key move in the team-building process, in part because of Edelman's injury history. But after Edelman totaled 105 receptions and stayed healthy for all of the 2013 season, something he admitted was the main question dogging him through the first four years of his career, the context of his return takes on a whole different meaning. He was the team's best receiver in 2013.

Patriots can't stop here at receiver. While Edelman's return is critical, the Patriots still need more at the position. That could come in the form of development from the second-year class of Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins, another free-agent signing, the return to health of Danny Amendola or a draft pick. The status quo won't be good enough.

Don't forget punt return role. Coach Bill Belichick often talks about the importance of being strong in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams. The third phase, special teams, is sometimes overlooked. Along those lines, Edelman is one of the NFL's best punt returners and has been a game-changer at times with his dynamic work; his 12.3-yard punt-return average is the best mark in franchise history.

Trust with Brady. When Tom Brady began throwing this past Monday for the first time since the team's AFC Championship Game loss, Edelman was the receiver catching passes from him on USC's campus. It speaks to the bond and trust they've developed over the past five years.

When the market dictates a return. This situation was similar to last year when Edelman took a visit to the Giants before re-signing with the Patriots. The visit to another team gave him a chance to see how a different club valued him on the open market. Fast-forward to 2014, and Edelman's one visit this year was to the 49ers, on Friday, and that seemed to accelerate the process of his re-signing once again. No player wants to sell himself short, and that probably best explains why Edelman, who wasn't inclined to sign the Patriots' offer at the start of free agency, was ready to do so now. It will be interesting to see the financial terms of the deal and compare them to the contract the Patriots awarded Amendola in 2013, as Edelman outperformed the injured Amendola last year.