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New England Patriots: Important Takeaways from Aaron Hernandez Situation

Some Things to Keep in Mind when Considering the Aaron Hernandez Case

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY| The football world is still reverberating with news of the arrest of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, and the player's subsequent release from the team. As the case is sorted out, there are important takeaways for fans to consider.

The Patriots are just as surprised as you: Hernandez fell to the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2010 draft because of character concerns related to failed drug tests and possible high school gang affiliations according to Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard and Pete Thamel. However, over the past several seasons, he proved himself with solid play on the field, and no notable issues off it- until recently.

Last offseason, the Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year, $37.5 million contract extension. If they had any inkling he could be in the position he is today, they would never have offered him a deal. As one of the most successful teams in the league, they haven't earned that status by making stupid decisions.

Like most NFL contracts, the majority of Hernandez's money wasn't guaranteed, but it was symbolic of the team wanting him to be a prominent part of their future. Long-term contracts are invitations to become part of a team's identity, which are decisions not taken lightly. The Patriots were clearly as fooled by Hernandez as the public was.

The Patriots must continue taking chances on players: The demise of Hernandez is one of the most calamitous exits from a team the game has ever seen. While the Patriots must continue to make sure their players are carefully vetted, this situation shouldn't preclude them from taking chances in the future.

Gambling on players with questionable backgrounds can pay off if the team believes they are worth the faith. Corey Dillon and Randy Moss are two excellent examples of those who thrived after New England decided to roll the dice with them.

Hernandez is an outlier. While he is a cautionary tale to be sure, if the team continues doing their due diligence they should continue feeling confident in their personnel decisions.

Don't assume the Patriots have to replace Hernandez: The arrest warrant hadn't even been served before speculation began over who might replace Hernandez. The team's other starting tight end, Rob Gronkowski, has undergone multiple surgeries this offseason and will not be ready for the start of training camp.

Despite the apparent hole at the position, the Patriots don't need to rush out and find a high-profile replacement for Hernandez. They already have other tight ends on the roster, including veterans Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui; and rookies Brandon Ford and Zach Sudfeld.

It's also possible the team could move away from the two-tight end offense.

Additionally, the Patriots have a deep, if unspectacular group of wide receivers, and a rising star at running back in Stevan Ridley.

Starting quarterback Tom Brady has built his career by being successful no matter who he has thrown the ball to. It's a safe bet the offense will keep clicking no matter who is lining up in Hernandez's former spot.

Conclusion: The last thing to remember from this whole mess isn't related to football. The lives of two young men were needlessly destroyed by what appear to be horrendous decisions and the lure of a dangerous lifestyle.

Hernandez lost a lot more than his career and a big contract. He will now fight to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison. Left in the outside world is his fiancé and their young baby; continuing the domino effect of this tragedy.

Lloyd had his life and future stolen from him in a flash of violence. His family and friends have lost a loved one they will never be able to see again. That should be remembered if nothing else.

In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew

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