A bit more on Edelman's return

Receiver Julian Edelman agreeing to a 1-year deal with the Patriots is a move that is more important to the club than it might initially appear to be on the surface.

If healthy, and that "if" is a key, Edelman projects to a top-4 role at receiver. Maybe even top-3.

Edelman is one of the Patriots' hardest workers and he opened eyes among teammates and coaches last offseason and training camp. Specifically, his straight-line speed had improved.

So while the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Edelman might have once been viewed as more of a shifty slot receiver (many recall his fine slot work in the 2009 season finale in place of the injured Wes Welker), the Patriots began inserting him more on the outside in two-receiver packages early last year. Part of that was tied to his improved speed and strong work as a blocker. Another part was attempting to reduce some of the wear and tear on Welker.

It wasn't always perfect, but Edelman had 10 catches for 87 yards and one touchdown through the first 10 quarters of the season before he injured his hand against the Ravens on Sept. 23. At that point, he was on pace for a solid 64-catch season and the coaching staff's view of his value was reflected in his playing time.

Edelman averaged 45 offensive snaps per game over the first three weeks and would have played more if he didn't miss the second half of the Sept. 23 game against the Ravens.

But after he was sidelined for the next three games because of injury, he never truly found his groove again. Edelman played six games upon his return, totaling 11 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns, and averaging 27 offensive snaps per game over that span -- a noticeable drop.

An early-December foot injury then landed him on injured reserve.

In returning to the Patriots on a one-year deal, which includes financial incentives that will reward him should he remain healthy and productive, Edelman puts himself in the best position to hit free agency again next season and potentially land a bigger offer.

The Patriots also benefit, because they need help at receiver, and Edelman's knowledge of the system has added value given some of the other changes at the position. Edelman is also a top-flight punt returner.