It's pretty clear, watching the Patriots' organized team activities, that the club has big plans for rookie TE Aaron Hernandez. It's also clear that he's got talent -- After all, absent some of the off-field concerns teams had over the Florida product, he might've been a low first- or second-round pick.
And all that's great. But it doesn't mean the Patriots weren't going protect themselves in negotiating Hernandez's contract. A closer look at the four-year deal the rookie signed on Tuesday shows that the tight end will have to work for his money, and prove himself capable of keeping his nose clean to cash in.
The risk, on New England's end, is low. Hernandez received a $200,000 signing bonus, well short of the $508,000 bonus that Chicago's Corey Wootten, taken four picks ahead of Hernandez, reaped in his four-year deal.
Hernandez makes up the money in a series of roster bonuses -- $76,000 in 2010, $90,000 in 2011, $104,000 in 2012 and $118,000 in 2013 -- which are each tied to Hernandez making the 53-man roster, meaning he has to get through each offseason clean to collect. There's also a $24,000 minimum play-time bonus due after this season, and if Hernandez hits that one (and only if he hits that one), he's eligible for workout bonuses of $110,000 (2011), $96,000 (2012) and $82,000 (2013).
He has the standard base salary numbers: $320,000 (2010), $405,000 (2011), $490,000 (2012), $575,000 (2013). If you add up the workout and roster bonuses, then toss in the signing bonus, the total money comes to $700,000. So Hernandez can wind up making more than Wootten did, but he has to play out the deal.
Now, compare this deal to Taylor Price's. The third-round pick had the same base salary numbers (adding to $1.79 million), and a simple $704,000 signing bonus. Both players have the standard final-year escalators on the back end. One player's contract is complicated, the other's isn't.
The bottom line here: The Patriots have protected themselves with Hernandez for the same reasons other teams (and the Patriots themselves) let him slip to the fourth round. Hernandez can wind up getting the money a third-rounder would over four years, but he's gotta walk the straight and narrow to do so.
UPDATE (8:18 p.m.): That escalator on the back-end, based on playing time, is worth $1.308 million. That brings the max value of the deal to $3.798 million over the four years.