Shortly after former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Odin Lloyd, reports surfaced that the 23-year-old Hernandez had little interaction with his teammates away from the field.
Last week, free agent wide receiver Deion Branch defended Hernandez, referring to his former teammate as a "great guy and a great friend of mine". Branch appears to be in the minority on that sentiment as former Patriots left tackle Matt Light recently told the Dayton Daily News that he "never believed in anything Aaron Hernandez stood for" during their two seasons (2010-11) as teammates in New England.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Hernandez was affable with the media and teammates while in the locker room, but was a loner away from the field. Howe describes Hernandez's mysterious side as being "the elephant in the room".
"No one hung out with him," one unnamed source told Howe. "No one."
"Out of 53 guys, surely there’s someone you could find to hang out with," another unnamed source told Howe. "Instead, he chose to revert to his network from his hometown."
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Whether or not those comments came from players or Patriots staffers is unclear. Branch, who remains a free agent, and Light are the only two former teammates to make any public comments about the Hernandez situation. That is unlikely to change as Patriots veterans do not report to training camp on July 25.
However, Hernandez being described as a "loner" raises legitimate questions about the Patriots' decision last summer to sign him to a five-year, $37.5 million contract extension.
The Patriots were wary of Hernandez's off-field issues when they drafted him. That concern was evident in Hernandez's four-year rookie contract, which included just $200,000 in guaranteed money when a player selected in that draft slot should have received just under $500,000 in guaranteed money. Instead, the Patriots gave out a smaller signing bonus and allowed Hernandez to make up the difference in "per game" roster bonuses that required him to be on the 53-man roster or an injury-related reserve list, i.e., not suspended by the team or the NFL. Hernandez did earn those bonuses his first two seasons in the league, but if the consensus in the room was that Hernandez was a "loner" who had little-to-no personal relationships with his teammates, it remains puzzling that the team's front office ignored the "elephant in the room" when committing such large financial guarantees to a player they were extremely cautious about paying just two years earlier.
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