Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez cleared waivers on Thursday, the same day that the NFL released a statement saying that they will not approve any contract between a team and Hernandez until after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has a chance to meet with Hernandez.
The likelihood of that meeting ever happening are slim, but the NFL is conducting its own investigation of Hernandez, reports Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com.
According to Marvez, information gained from the NFL's investigation will be used by Goodell when he decides on whether or not to suspend Hernandez for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Reports of multiple failed drug tests at Florida and concerns about his off-field associations caused Hernandez to fall to the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. The Patriots protected themselves in Hernandez's rookie contract, which contained just $200,000 in guaranteed money, well below the nearly $500,000 in guaranteed money his draft slot had warranted. Over his first two seasons in the league, Hernandez stayed out of trouble and remained available to the Patriots, combining with Rob Gronkowski to form the best tight end duo in the league. Hernandez's production on the field his first two seasons in the league prompted the Patriots to sign him to a five-year, $37.5 million extension last August that included $16 million in guaranteed money and an additional $2.5 million in incentives.
Marvez adds that the Patriots had some "concerns" about some of Hernandez's associations away from the field, but NFL security director Jeff Miller told Marvez that it's difficult to criticize the Patriots for not knowing more about Hernandez's off-field issues.
"That’s a difficult criticism to make of any club," Miller said. "It’s hard to predict how a young man is going to perform and mature. Certainly there are players who have been drafted where teams know they are taking a calculated risk. Sometimes, the risk is greater than others.
"Hindsight is always 20/20 in a situation where a player gets into serious trouble and people say, 'See, I knew this was going to happen.' Even though I’m sure there are a lot of clubs that have concerns about certain players going into the draft, if those players are drafted, the teams try to work with them through their player engagement and security personnel to take the steps necessary to prevent the kinds of things that can cause big problems to a player and a team."
Miller is right. It's hard to criticize the Patriots as no one could have predicted that Hernandez would be charged with first-degree murder three seasons into his career. The events of the last two weeks have come as a complete shock to everyone.
That said, the Patriots deserve criticism for the timing of the $37.5 million extension they signed Hernandez to last summer.
Former Patriots left tackle Matt Light told the Dayton Daily News recently that he "never believed in anything Aaron Hernandez stood for" during their two seasons as teammates. The Boston Globe reported on June 21 that, in 2010, Hernandez directed an expletive-filled tirade at veteran wide receiver Wes Welker when the perennial Pro Bowler told the rookie tight end to figure out how to use the video equipment on his own. That same Boston Globe article reported that Hernandez spent "little, if any" time off the field with his teammates.
Locker rooms are small, as is the town of Foxboro, Mass. and the surrounding communities. While no one could have predicted a first-degree murder charge, or Hernandez's possible involvement in a double-murder in Boston last July, the Patriots had to have some concerns about Hernandez being a lone wolf inside their locker room. After being extremely cautious with Hernandez's rookie contract, it's surprising that the Patriots weren't equally as cautious when it came to his second, more lucrative deal.
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