Julian Edelman spent 12 years in the NFL, all with the New England Patriots, working his way from being a seventh round pick in 2009 to eventually becoming Tom Brady’s most trusted target en route to three Super Bowl titles (and one Super Bowl MVP award).
After retiring from playing football following the 2020 season, Edelman made his way into the media space, first creating his own content and then joining Inside the NFL. This year, Edelman made the jump to live television with Fox NFL Kickoff, spending an hour every Sunday morning breaking down the day’s upcoming games with Charissa Thompson, Charles Woodson, Michael Vick, and Peter Schrager.
“It’s been awesome. The working environment, the team unity, it feels very comfortable. You know, you feel like you’re part of a team at Fox,” Edelman says. “And everyone at the workplace is awesome. Like everyone is there to go out and perform and do your best on the air, which sounds like Patriot talk, but it really is. I’ve done TV the last two years. I did a recap show on Inside the NFL, which was live-to-tape. Jumping onto live TV and a kickoff show, I like it a little more just because you have the whole week to prepare for your show and know what’s going to go down on Sunday, in comparison to what I used to do where you watch the games Sunday and Monday and you shoot on Tuesday and you have to come up with your thoughts. So it’s different, but I like it.”
The move to Sundays also allows him to mirror his preparation for the show the way he would for a game week during his playing days. Edelman channels the same work ethic that allowed him to go from a seventh round pick to a star in the league into his broadcasting, and that includes seeking out coaching to get better at the craft of being on TV. That means the start of the week is for watching the tape back from Sunday’s show with his broadcasting coach, Jill Montgomery, to see what he can improve on going forward.
“One thing [Bill] Belichick always used to say was, ‘To improve you can’t just go and work hard.’ I can’t just go and watch film or watch TV. You need to find someone or a coach or a mentor or a peer or someone who’s on your team, and you need to find out what you have to work on,” Edelman notes. “So that’s what Jill does for me. She helps me on what I have to work on. I work hard at those things, and then you’ll naturally improve. People don’t realize, yeah, you want it to be like locker room talk up there on TV, but you also still have to be able to put sentences together. And I’ve been in a locker room for the last 13 years, you know, we’re not English majors. We’re football players. So being able to formulate your take and just practicing it which, with reps everything gets better. It’s been a fun process to try to make yourself better at something that you’ve never really done, which gives me, once again, that feeling of what I felt when I was competing in football.”
From there, he spends Wednesdays and Thursdays on calls with the producers to go over topics and Fox’s stats department — who, in his words, are “really great” — to get all the information he needs about the teams so he can analyze the matchups and where advantages lie in that week’s games. Much like how practice and film work allows you to play free once game time rolls around, that preparation during the week allows him to go into Sundays on set and break down games, fire off takes, and banter with his colleagues comfortably and confidently, all within a natural conversation. Edelman calls it his “football fix,” noting that he’s excited to head into the studio on Sundays because he gets to talk football with other football people.
“As athletes, we’re all creatures of habit, Edelman says. “You do miss football and with these kinds of shows you get your fix of sitting and talking football with football people. You’re getting to hear the stories from Charles Woodson. I’m getting to hear Mike Vick’s interpretations on things. Peter Schrager is so in tune with everything — he’s one of those guys that just knows everything and has great memories on games from five or six years ago. Charissa Thompson being like a point guard and dishing things left and right. And she knows her sh*t crazy too. Everyone’s got their role and you get that football fix, you know? Football guys like to talk football with football people, with all due respect to people in the TV world. And that’s what we’re here to do is we’re here to broadcast and perform and give our takes, but ultimately, it’s different when you get to sit and talk to Terry Bradshaw about the 1970s Steelers or Howie [Long] and what he thinks, you know? That’s what you did in the locker room. So you get a fix of that when you get to work on this show. It’s been awesome.”
For an hour every Sunday, he gets that fix, and he particularly appreciates what he can learn from his co-analysts on the desk. There’s an interesting dynamic having a wideout like Edelman on the desk next to a Hall of Fame defensive back in Charles Woodson, alongside one of the most unique quarterbacks to play the game in Michael Vick. For Edelman, what he enjoys is getting to see the game through their eyes, because he only knows one way having only ever played for one coach and alongside one quarterback.
“I was in one system for my whole career. And so, I kind of know my system. I know what [Bill] Belichick thinks on offense and defense. And it’s always good to see guys from different systems or different organizations, and how they have attained success,” Edelman says. “Because there’s multiple ways of doing things. And with Charles, the guy is such an elite DB, not just corner but safety. It’s fun, you can talk coverage with him. With Mike, there’s a lot of stuff that people don’t realize between the receiver and the quarterback, the chemistry. I learned a lot from how he was as a leader and a quarterback and what he wanted. And he hears from how I was coached and how I was taught and how I was with the guys that I played with. It’s good bouncing things off of guys that played meaningful football.”
While he only ever knew “The Patriot Way,” Edelman does have a unique understanding of what it’s like to be on just about every rung of the NFL ladder when it comes to player roles. That allows him to be a bit more empathetic to what players are going through and the various stresses they face, whether it be a guy trying to stick on a roster or a star carrying a heavy burden, and he tries to make sure he considers that in his analysis and discussion of guys.
“I’ve been in every situation. I’ve been the guy trying to make the team. I’ve been the special-teamer bouncing around the squad looking for a role. I’ve been the star receiver. I’ve been the guy who won a Super Bowl. So I’ve been in a lot of roles,” Edelman says. “So I know how hard it is for every single player and the stresses that every single one of these guys have to go through. Everyone has a stress in the National Football League. It doesn’t matter what guy on the team you are. When you’re a guy trying to make the team, you have that stress. When you’re going to try to find a role, you have that stress. When you’re a guy that has expectations as a superstar, you have the stresses of maintaining that excellence and that success. So, I try to put myself in the situation, and it’s hard.”
“But also, it depends on how that person that you’re talking about, how they’re coming off and how they’re showing themselves through the media. You can get a read on a guy that comes in that looks like he thinks his stuff doesn’t stink, and we’ve all been in the locker room. So you’ve been around these types of guys, and you always want to understand the situation. But you’re never going to know the situation because you’re not in the situation. You can assume through your experience of situations that you’ve been in that are similar. So, I try to do that.”
As our conversation wore on and we shifted away from TV talk and dove into football more, it became apparent that Edelman really does just love talking ball and could do it for hours a day.
He can’t help but get excited talking about the things he is watching for as the season progresses, particularly the way so many offenses are taking advantage of shifts and motion, particularly from the Shanahan coaching tree, and wondering how defenses were going to adapt as the season went on. He pulled up his stats from that week’s prep and rattled off the teams that ran the most pre-snap motion and compared it to the list of the top 10 offenses, noting the lone exceptions were the Eagles and Bills, and how those teams rely so much on their star QBs, while teams like the Dolphins and 49ers are scheming guys open. He was enamored by Arthur Smith’s use of motion to create space in the running game despite having sub-par QB play, and how we’re getting to see offenses evolve in real time — with excitement for how defenses will adapt alongside.
The result was a quick dissertation on why motions drive defenses crazy, the importance of variability in your personnel groups as an offense, and how having a QB that can make quick reads can unlock everything for an offense — with a little dig at defensive guys as you’d expect from someone who spent his whole life playing offense.
“Defenses — I’m telling I was around the greatest defensive mind in the history of the game — defenses hate that because hey, what are defenders? They’re usually the most athletic guys, but let’s be honest here, they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed. That’s why they play defense,” Edelman says. “So if you get these guys communicating? When you make a team have to communicate, when you bring a motion or a shift, and then the safety drops, these guys don’t want to do that. They want to sit back, and let you do what you have [done] before without the motion, so they can pin back and do what they know they have to do. So, you know it’s a huge asset.
And it also tells you that these teams, the coaching staffs that do this, you have to have a smart team to execute those things. It’s not easy to have multiple personnel groups for communication getting into a huddle. It’s not easy with alignment, assignment, not having pre-snap penalties. You gotta have some smart-coached teams and you’re seeing that with a lot of these teams right now.
There’s going to be some point of the season where these defensive coaches, they get smart too now. These guys are smart. They’re sitting back and they’re dialing up what they’re going to do for these motions and shifts and all that. It all ultimately comes down to the relationship between the quarterback and the coordinator. If you have a quarterback where you have one play that can beat every coverage, you have your zone read up front on the right side, you have a man beater on the backside, you have a checkdown to get out, if you have a quarterback that can understand that? That’s when it gets dangerous. And I was always with the guy that knew that. You know what I mean? That’s when your confidence is at an all time high, and it’s just ultimately about execution. That’s when you get the game within a game; matchups in the game, you know? Because you know how to manipulate the defense just on their tendencies alone through formations, personnel groups, all that. And that’s what you’re seeing a lot of these teams do now.
That’s what we did for a long time in New England. Everyone didn’t like playing us because we had so many different personnel groups. Now people go, ‘Why does that matter?’ Well, if you put in a 13 personnel group you have one receiver, maybe three tight ends and a running back or two tight ends, a fullback, and a running back, what do you get with that? You get a big defense. You get a base defense. Maybe you get a heavy defense. But if you have versatility in players where you can spread that offense out, and you can put them wide? That instantaneously creates slow guys on the field that have to cover space. So that’s the matchups you’re starting to see with a lot of these explosive super offenses that you see in San Francisco that has so much talent everywhere; Miami Dolphins, which have so much speed everywhere. And another thing with those two specific teams, they have such crazy catch-and-run guys. You look at their YAC, yards after catch, these guys will take a six yard throw — I mean, San Francisco’s the best screen team in the goddamn league. They get 100 yards per game on screens, outside screens. They’ll put in the 13 personnel group. They’ll put Christian McCaffrey out wide. You got [Kyle] Juszczyk, you got a f*cking backup tight end, and [George] Kittle out there. And then they throw everyone out there, and they got athletic linemen. And you got base defense out there.
How are you supposed to beat it? So if you have a team that is smart enough to get in and out of the huddle and choreograph this sh*t, sorry for my language, I’m in football talk. That’s what you’re starting to see with some of these teams.”
There really isn’t much better than listening to football talk from football people, and every Sunday morning Edelman gets his fix and gives viewers theirs.