When a NFL player gets in trouble, the team's punishment will not always fit the crime, but in most cases it will fit how much it needs that player on the roster.
For the Patriots cutting Aaron Hernandez, it appears that was an exception, not a new rule with New England.
A lot was made of how the Patriots did the right thing by cutting Hernandez less than two hours after he was arrested on June 26. They did a great PR move by letting fans exchange their Hernandez jerseys. Both moves were smart, and probably correct. They just apparently didn't signal some epiphany that the team would not stand for troubled players anymore, and is getting back to the so-called "Patriot Way."
In less than a month since Hernandez was let go, the Patriots have already made two decisions that showed they're still willing to overlook red flags, including a decision to sign a rookie who was one arrested on gun charges.
(UPDATE: The Patriots decided to go against signing defensive tackle John Drew, once kicked out of Duke over gun charges, at the last minute and opted for defensive lineman Anthony Rashad White instead. According to the Boston Herald, "Drew was at Gillette, passed his physical and had a contract in hand before the Patriots opted to go in White's direction.")
ESPNBoston.com reported the Patriots agreed to terms with defensive tackle John Drew of North Carolina Central University. Drew was at N.C. Central because he was kicked out of Duke for his involvement in firing a gun on campus, CSNNE.com said. In 2010 Drew plead guilty to possessing a firearm on educational property and carrying a concealed weapon, CSNNE.com said. According to The Herald-Sun, Drew and two other teammates had 45-day sentences suspended in favor of 12 months of supervised probation, 140 hours of community service, a $500 fine and court costs.
Instead, after agreeing to terms with Drew, the Patriots ended up passing, for unknown reasons.
The courting of Drew came just after the Patriots decided to not cut cornerback Alfonzo Dennard after he was arrested July 11 under suspicion of DUI, the Boston Globe reported. Dennard was another character risk the Patriots took a chance on in the draft after he dropped to the seventh round last year. He fell in the draft because he was arrested in 2012 for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. He also had a good rookie season and the Patriots would be very thin at cornerback without him.
Every case is different. Certainly Drew and Dennard weren't involved in anything nearly as serious as Hernandez was. The Globe story on Dennard said the Patriots believed Dennard's version of events, that two breathalyzer tests said he was under the legal limit and he passed a field sobriety test, but he didn't blow hard enough and that triggered the arrest.
Dennard might be innocent in this case. Drew might be more mature now and never cause a problem again. It's fine for the Patriots to stick by Dennard and look into Drew, but it's also worth noting that the Hernandez case probably didn't indicate some grand organizational shift. It wasn't some big picture issue of the team getting back to the "Patriot Way," it was that one player was involved in something so vile the team felt it had to let him go. The Patriots are still going to take chances on troubled players. even shortly after owner Robert Kraft offered up the laughable reasoning that the team was "duped" on Hernandez. If the Patriots were really taking a moral stand as the organization, they probably wouldn't on the verge of signing a player who was kicked out of a college because of gun charges less than a month after Odin Lloyd was shot to death and Hernandez was charged with his murder.
The Patriots aren't alone. Many teams will take on players with character concerns. The Hernandez issue was just an extreme one.