Kraft didn’t say whether the team will be less willing in the future to take on players with character risks, but “you can be sure we’ll be looking at our procedures and auditing how we do things.”
Kraft certainly wishes he had done more research on Hernandez’s off-field activities before giving him the extension last August, but he felt at the time that signing Hernandez to a long-term deal was the best move for the team. Hernandez’s rookie contract was supposed to run through the 2013 season, and the Patriots felt like they could get better value if they had signed him to a long-term deal before he reached free agency.
“If you let the best players go to free agency or get to the last year, you usually pay more,” Kraft said. “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.”
“We can look back, obviously it wasn’t the correct decision. When something isn’t right, we try to correct it.”
Kraft reiterated that he and other top members of the organization had decided a week before Hernandez’s arrest that they would cut him if he was arrested in any way in connection with the murder investigation, even if it were for a charge like obstruction of justice.
“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,” he said.
Kraft said the incident has cast a pall over the organization over the past two weeks, and he worries that it could be a big distraction during training camp, which begins on July 25.
“Everything we don’t want is happening,” he said.
Cutting Hernandez also has saddled the Patriots with a couple of large salary cap hits — $2.5 million this year and $7.5 million next year — but Kraft said that cutting Hernandez was the only option the team had.
“It was principle, over money or cap or anything else,” Kraft said.
Principle is also why the Patriots were willing to take a $250,000 hit over the weekend when nearly 2,000 fans exchanged their Hernandez jerseys for another player’s at the Patriots ProShop. Kraft said the team plans to destroy the jerseys by grinding them up and donating the material for recycling purposes.
Kraft expressed extreme regret that a member of his organization appears to be involved in a homicide.
“The most sad thing is the Lloyd family lost a son, a brother,” Kraft said. “I’m really sorry, and my heart goes out to the Lloyd family.”