The New England Patriots have remained quiet since tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested on June 26 and charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Odin Lloyd on June 17. The Patriots released Hernandez less than two hours after his arrest and conducted a two-day jersey exchange that drew well over 1,200 fans to the team's store at Gillette Stadium on July 6-7, but head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft had not made any public comments on the situation.
That changed on Monday when Kraft, two days after returning from his vacation to Europe and Israel, met with local reporters in his Gillette Stadium office to address the three-year tenure Hernandez had with the Patriots.
"No one in our organization was aware of any of these kind of connections. If it’s true, I’m just shocked," Kraft said on Monday, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. "Our whole organization has been duped."
Hernandez was considered to be a second-round talent whose off-field issues, including drug use, had him available to the Patriots in the fourth-round of the 2010 NFL draft. Six days before the draft, the Patriots received a letter from Hernandez, offering to subject himself to additional drug testing and agreeing to make financial concessions should he be suspended after being drafted by the team.
Hernandez was selected by the Patriots with the No. 113 overall pick, after which the Bristol, Conn. native informed Kraft that the first football jersey he ever owned was a Drew Bledsoe Patriots jersey.
"He was a New England kid who was a Patriot. I thought it was cool," Kraft said.
"Shutdown Corner" has noted in previous posts how cautious the Patriots were with Hernandez in his rookie contract, which included $200,000 in guarantees, far less the nearly $500,000 in guaranteed money that his draft slot called for. Hernandez could "make up the difference" by remaining out of trouble, however, which he had been success in doing during his first two seasons in the league.
Two years into that deal, the Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year, $37.5 million extension that included $16 million in guaranteed money.
"If you let the best players go to free agency or get to the last year, you usually pay more," Kraft said of the decision to extend Hernandez's deal two years before he was eligible for unrestricted free agency. "It was a business decision. We were paying for performance. He was undervalued his first two years, then we wanted to get him in range."
Reports following Hernandez's arrest were that he had little interaction with his teammates outside the locker room, which is something the Patriots certainly should have been aware of before signing him to that extension.
"I only know what goes on inside this building. We don’t put private eyes on people," Kraft said on Monday. "When he was in this building, I was never exposed to anything where he was not positive. He was always polite, respectful."
Kraft added that "you can be sure we’ll be looking at our procedures and auditing how we do things" in regard to future contract extensions. Kraft also reiterated that the team had made the decision to release Hernandez if he were arrested and charged with any crime relating to the investigation.
"If any member of the New England Patriots organization is close enough to a murder investigation to actually get arrested — whether it be for obstruction of justice or the crime itself — it is too close to an unthinkable act for that person to be part of this organization going forward," Kraft said.
As for the jersey exchange, Volin adds that Kraft said the nearly 2,000 fans exchanged Hernandez jerseys, a program that cost the team $250,000.