Teams will generally hold onto talented yet troubled players as long as they can, even when they run afoul of the law. When teams make examples out of problem cases, they usually do so with expendable players. The Patriots cut the talented Hernandez right after his arrest (and by doing so that quickly, it could hinder any attempts to recoup a $12.5 million signing bonus Hernandez got last year), and doing it so quickly made a subtle point. The statement even included the line, "We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing," in case there was any doubt what message the Patriots were trying to send. The only thing the Patriots cared about was getting Hernandez completely away from their locker room.
The Patriots apparently didn't even know what Hernandez would be charged with when they cut him not long after his arrest. The Boston Globe wrote that the Patriots "expected Hernandez to be arrested for obstruction of justice, and were 'taken aback' when he was charged with murder."
The fact that the Patriots were willing to let Hernandez loose over an obstruction of justice charge probably says something about Hernandez, and about the Patriots too.
There haven't been a lot of comments of support for Hernandez in the legal process, or shock that he found himself in trouble. And the Patriots have made it pretty clear what they think about their former tight end and the trouble he finds himself in.
The Patriots also voided all future payments of guaranteed money, the Globe reported. The Globe said he was due $2.46 million in guaranteed base salary this season, $200,000 in roster and workout bonuses and a $3.25 million payment to complete his signing bonus. A team source told the Globe the Patriots believe they are "well within our rights" because they say the money was only guaranteed for skill, injury, and cap purposes, but not for conduct. It could be an interesting fight if Hernandez's representatives wish to battle for that money. It will also be interesting to see what the union's response is (the Globe said the union has not yet commented).
Withholding money is something done on a business level behind the scenes. And the Patriots could have let their quick release of Hernandez serve as their public stance on the issue. But instead of letting it drop, they took an extreme step of encouraging fans to give back their Hernandez jerseys.
The Patriots' offer to let fans exchange Hernandez jerseys for another jersey of equal value is practically unheard of. They want it known by everyone what side they're on. (And not that more needs to be said about Hernandez, but The Big Lead citing a Boston Globe story said when a SUV engaged police in a high-speed chase that exceeded 100 miles an hour earlier this year, Hernandez was in the passenger seat and had the audacity to yell out to police, “Trooper, I’m Aaron Hernandez — it’s OK.”)
It's pretty clear that Hernandez wasn't thought of very well in the New England organization. The Ravens decided to support Ray Lewis when he was charged with murder in 2000 because they believed in Lewis as a person. As the news of Odin Lloyd's death kept coming in last week, the Patriots made the decision that they would dump Hernandez when he was arrested. The charges didn't even matter. Neither did the fact that an immediate release could keep the Patriots from recouping a lot of money, that Hernandez is a fantastically talented player or that New England's offense has lost other key players this offseason.
The way the Patriots have aggressively disassociated themselves with Hernandez is pretty unusual. It reflects on Hernandez and on how the Patriots' organization wants to be perceived. Maybe the way the Patriots dealt with Hernandez will provide a template for other NFL teams and how they deal with players who get in trouble.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
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• NFL conducting its own investigation of Aaron Hernandez
• NFL nightmare continues with arrest of Colts' Joe Lefeged
• Poor timing? Mario Williams shows off his guns
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