The narrative involves a semi-professional football player who never returned home after a night out with friends, a millionaire NFL tight end and his checkered past, a damaged rental car, an untimely visit from a cleaning crew, and a video surveillance system and cell phone, both intentionally destroyed before authorities could access them.
The murder of Boston Bandits football player and Dorchester native Odin Lloyd, whose body was found about one mile from the North Attleborough home of Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, has produced a never-ending stream of questions. But, as each additional query mounts, one answer is rapidly taking shape:
After three impressive seasons, it's time for New England to end its relationship with Hernandez.
The Patriots have been known to take chances on players before. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Aqib Talib, heck, even Tim Tebow for different reasons, can speak to Bill Belichick’s interest in reclamation projects. However, to compare any of their stories to this one would be apples and Chinese food.
Hernandez received his flier from the coach when he was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft in spite of multiple failed drug tests and a recently reported association with people with gang ties that had some teams steering clear. The versatile offensive threat rewarded Belichick and company for their faith with 20 touchdowns and 2,316 receiving yards on 210 catches over the next three seasons (44 games, including the playoffs). His efforts earned him a premature and sizable five-year extension in August of 2012, good for $41 million over seven seasons with $12.5 million of that guaranteed. Seemingly, all Hernandez had to do was stay out of trouble.
He spoke glowingly of Robert Kraft and the organization at the time, while simultaneously donating $50,000 to the Patriots owner's late wife Myra’s charitable foundation.
“He changed my life,” Hernandez said. “Now I’m able to basically have a good chance to be set for life, and have a good life … He didn’t need to give me the amount that he gave me, and knowing that he thinks I deserve that, he trusts me to make the right decisions, it means a lot … You can’t come here and act reckless and do your own stuff, and [I] was one of the persons that I came here, I might’ve acted the way I wanted to act, but you get changed by Bill Belichick’s way. You get changed by the Patriots’ way.”
That all sounded great back then but, as we all know, actions trump words every time. His actions are a breach of the trust and faith offered by a team that paid him more than it had to, before it had to. Less than one year after Hernandez cashed in, he’s a 23-year-old kid linked to multiple heinous crimes in the last five months alone. That’s not good for anyone at Gillette, where the brand and sometimes personal agendas come before all else. Just ask Wes Welker.
It’s been equally fascinating and shocking following the details that have emerged from this case and, unfortunately for Hernandez, each new bit of information has made him look worse and worse. The truth of how deeply the tight end’s roots are intertwined remains a mystery at this hour, but that may no longer matter to the decision-makers with the Patriots. Frankly, it shouldn't.
Innocent or guilty – and it would be unfair to speculate either way – the stain of these few days and the weeks upon weeks of questions to follow will forever be tied to Hernandez. In the court of public opinion, he may wind up a marked man in a similar vein to Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Donte Stallworth, Plaxico Burress, or Adam Jones. For some, time in jail was required and, for others, merely a blemished legacy.
Yes, Stallworth was welcomed back, but his situation was remarkably different. He was playing elsewhere at the time of his DUI manslaughter, he opted to plead guilty to the accident when his lawyers felt he had an excellent chance of being found innocent, and he served his time before returning to the NFL and, years later, the Pats.
The Patriots are not an organization that welcomes distractions of this ilk, and you’ll notice they haven’t uttered a single word in support of a guy once considered a franchise player. If you don't think that's somewhat telling, you're wrong. Hernandez is on a very lonely island right now. The league, too, is waiting to comment. If Hernandez is somehow absolved of any wrongdoing in the case of Lloyd’s homicide – and there are several legal possibilities here – that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. An arrest is not required in order for a player to be suspended, and commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t take kindly to anything that could hurt his game. It's a safe bet that one way or another Hernandez will be distanced from the field for at least a little while.
At this moment, Hernandez is not considered a suspect, but he is certainly not in the clear. The increasingly fluid details have included, among many other things, Hernandez not cooperating with authorities, time with Lloyd on the morning of the murder, getting barred by the team from Gillette, having a cleaning crew to his home hours before Lloyd’s body was found, and deliberately destroying his home security system and cell phone, which he handed over to police in pieces. He’s been followed in his white SUV by helicopters all over the state a la O.J. Simpson, he’s avoided a swarm of media while pumping gas, and he’s had his home searched multiple times. And none of that includes the re-filing of a bizarre civil lawsuit that he supposedly shot former friend Alexander Bradley in February, resulting in Bradley’s loss of an eye.
It's hard enough to explain away one or two of the above. The piles make you wonder if obstruction of justice, as he's been rumored to be charged with this morning, is his best-case scenario. The bottom line is none of it looks good, and appearance alone may be enough for the Kraft family to part ways with one-half of its ridiculous tight end tandem if the law doesn’t step in first. It’s sad, but Hernandez has no one to blame but himself, if only for the company he keeps away from the field.
As was well-documented today by Shalise Manza Young, the Patriots knew what they were getting into when they drafted Hernandez. Unfortunately, there's no telling which risks end up being worth taking, a debate surrounding Rob Gronkowski and his injury surplus of late as well. Hopefully that one was worth the gamble. This one wasn't.
To think, not even two weeks ago, Hernandez was answering run of the mill questions at mini-camp about the arrival of his old college teammate, Tim Tebow. I’d be willing to bet they’ll never find out what it’s like to practice together again. But, if that’s the worst thing that happens to Hernandez, he’s an awfully lucky guy. Good luck.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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