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Hernandez's release leaves questions for Patriots

The SportsXchange

When the New England Patriots moved swiftly and released tight end Aaron Hernandez from the team on Wednesday morning, they made it clear that their decision went far beyond football in terms of priorities.

But the move did leave a lot of questions for the franchise.

Hernandez was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the shooting death of a friend, Odin Lloyd.

Soon after the arrest, the Patriots, who drafted Hernandez out of University of Florida in 2010 and gave him a five-year, $39 million extension last year, announced they released him from the team and issued the following statement:

"A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do."

Still, even against the importance of that background, the Patriots are left with several issues to solve.

Among them is the question of who will play tight end for the Patriots?

Rob Gronkowski is recovering from back surgery. Hernandez was the oft-used No. 2 tight end.

It is not known when Gronkowski will be ready to play after undergoing multiple arm surgeries as well as back surgery and the team's options appear limited.

With wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd gone, if Gronkowski isn't ready for the start of the season, quarterback Tom Brady would be without his top four targets from a year ago that combined for 298 receptions, 3,538 yards and 26 touchdowns.

The financial repercussions could become complicated.

Hernandez signed a $39 million contract extension last year that included a $12.5 million signing bonus as well as guaranteed salaries of $1.323 million this year and $1.137 million in 2014. Additionally, $3.25 million of the signing bonus was deferred until March 2014. Another $3.25 million was paid this past March.

Without knowing the specifics of language in the contract, the question is whether the Patriots will attempt to withhold paying those guaranteed salaries and deferred bonus.

By releasing Hernandez, the Patriots are subject to a $3.8 million salary-cap charge this year and $7.5 million in 2014, but those could be altered if they are able to avoid paying the deferred bonus and if they can recover the bonus money paid this year.

Numerous reports have said the Patriots forfeit the right to recover bonus money because they released Hernandez. However, a team might be able to do just that and save on the cap when a player violates the NFL's personal conduct policies or defaults on his contract.

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