AFC East: Aaron Hernandez released
New England remains the preseason favorite to win the AFC East. But this team is weaker than previous years due to several offseason circumstances.
Here are three things to watch in Patriots camp:
1. Can New England block out distractions?
Analysis: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did a smart thing Wednesday. He faced the Aaron Hernandez situation head-on before training camp, because questions were coming either way. Belichick relieved some of the media pressure surrounding Hernandez's arrest on murder and other charges and the team's subsequent release of the star tight end. But this story will follow the Patriots to some degree all summer and beyond. The players must prove they can overcome the loss on the field as well as answer Hernandez questions off it. New England is a team which despises distractions, but this will be a challenge.
2. Will wide receivers step up?
Analysis: It’s been a question all offseason. Now, it’s time for some answers. Which receivers will step up in New England’s offense? Danny Amendola, if he stays healthy, is a proven commodity. But the rest of the Patriots’ receivers have plenty of question marks. New England lost a ton of production by not bringing back 2012 starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. This year’s group includes veterans Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Kamar Aiken and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is good at raising the level of his supporting cast -- but it is asking a lot of Brady to try to lead this group to another Super Bowl title.
3. How much better is the defense?
Analysis: One of the bright spots for the Patriots this offseason has been the additions on defense. New England spent resources in free agency and the draft to improve this side of the football. The Patriots signed veteran free-agent safety Adrian Wilson and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to toughen up the defense. They also drafted three defenders in the first three rounds to infuse some youth and energy. If other young defenders such as Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower take their games to another level, the Patriots defense could make good strides in 2013.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Patriots will not pay Hernandez's $82,000 workout bonus after Hernandez was charged this summer with murder and five additional gun charges. This most likely sets the table for a tricky battle involving Hernandez's five-year, $40 million contract he signed with New England in 2012.
For example, Hernandez performed his duties last spring with workouts and rehabs. Technically, he earned the $82,000 bonus. But New England does not want to set a precedent by paying out bonus money now that Hernandez is no longer on the team. It's also a prelude to the Patriots battling Hernandez over a $3.25 million guaranteed bonus next March, which New England reportedly doesn't want to pay.
The Patriots put themselves in a tougher spot to recoup money by cutting Hernandez before his guilt or innocence has been determined. It will be weeks and possibly months before the legal system runs its course with Hernandez. So this is just the beginning.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addressed the media for the first time following the release of Aaron Hernandez. New England cut the former tight end after Hernandez was charged with murder and five additional gun charges.
Here was Belichick’s opening statement Wednesday to the media:
"I’m going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez today. I felt that it was important enough to do that prior to the start of camp. It’s a sad day, really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim and I extend my sympathy really to everyone who has been impacted. A young man lost his life. His family has suffered a tragic loss and there’s no way to understate that. When I was out of the country, I learned about the ongoing criminal investigation that involved one of our players and I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed in what we had learned. Having someone in your organization that’s involved in a murder investigation is a terrible thing. After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively. [Patriots owner] Robert [Kraft] and his family and I, since I got here in 2000, have always emphasized the need for our team and our players and our organization to represent the community the right away both on and off the field. We’ve worked very hard together over the past 14 years to put together a winning team that’s a pillar in the community. I agree 100 percent with the comments that Robert has already made on the situation; I stand behind those as well. This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot. We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior and this does not in any way represent the way that the New England Patriots want to do things. As the coach of the team, I’m primarily responsible for the people that we bring into the football operation. Our players are generally highly motivated and gifted athletes. They come from very different backgrounds. They’ve met many challenges along the way and have done things to get here. Sometimes they’ve made bad or immature decisions but we try to look at every single situation on a case-by-case basis and try to do what’s best for the football team and what’s best for the franchise. Most of those decisions have worked out but some don’t. Overall, I’m proud of the hundreds of players that have come through this program but I’m personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this. Moving forward consists of what it’s always been here: to build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that our fans can be proud of. That’s what we’re here for."
This was not your typically staunch Belichick. Although guilt or innocence has yet to be determined, Belichick was genuine in his disappointment for Hernandez putting himself in this position as well as personal sorrow for the victim's family. He also admitted that the Patriots may make alterations to the way they evaluate players. That will be important for Belichick and Kraft going forward.
Belichick was wise to address the media about the Hernandez situation a couple of days before training camp. Patriots players will still face Hernandez questions this week. But both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the team’s top leaders, have said their part and can begin moving on from a controversial situation.
We wrote about this last week when New England first announced the decision. Hernandez recently was arrested and charged with murder and faces five additional gun charges in Massachusetts. The Patriots promptly cut the tight end.
The jersey swap is a classy move by the Patriots to allow their fans to trade in Hernandez jerseys for any jersey of equal value. It’s also a smart move by New England, because it’s another way to further distance itself and prevent fans from wearing Hernandez jerseys to the stadium this upcoming season.
The New England Patriots have had an uncharacteristically chaotic offseason. They lost their leading receiver -- Wes Welker -- to an AFC rival. Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski's status is in question for Week 1 after multiple surgeries, and the team was forced to cut Aaron Hernandez after he was arrested and charged with murder and five additional gun charges.
Will the recent offseason events in New England impact the team’s bottom line? The Patriots have been the dominant team in the AFC East for the past dozen years.
I’ve said for weeks that this year’s Patriots are not a championship-caliber team. The offense is not as good as the previous two years, and there are still some holes on defense. But as long as quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are in New England, the Patriots have a chance.
Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the 2013 win total for New England. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is acclimating himself to jail, according to Bistol (Mass.) County sheriff Thomas Hodgson. Hernandez was arrested last week and charged with murder and faces five additional gun charges in an investigation of a 27-year-old Boston man.
Hernandez will be incarcerated until his next court appearance on July 24. In the video above, Hodgson explains how Hernandez is being retained and how he is adjusting to the change.
- A report in the Orlando Sentinel states quarterback Tim Tebow once tried to stop a fight involving former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez while the two were at the University of Florida.
- How did the New York Jets spend their money this offseason?
- Miami Dolphins starting defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are both free agents in 2014.
- The Buffalo Bills are excited to put the pads on in training camp.
For years, the New England Patriots have been known as a model NFL franchise. New England, more than any team over the past dozen years, has been a football factory that found a way to stay focused in a league full of distractions.
But has New England lost sight of "The Patriot Way?" This has been an uncharacteristically wild offseason for New England that includes losing Wes Welker in free agency, multiple surgeries for Rob Gronkowski, the circus-like signing of Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez being released after a charge of murder and five additional gun charges.
According to ESPN.com NFL columnist Ashley Fox, these are no longer the usual Patriots. New England's reputation has been tarnished, Fox says, following the Hernandez incident.
The New England Patriots seem to be trying to do the right thing. Now. Now that they know Aaron Hernandez has been accused of executing an associate. Now that their star tight end is behind bars facing murder and weapons charges, denied bail and awaiting a trial that likely won't start until next year. Hernandez is worthless to the Patriots now, and the organization is going to great lengths to disassociate itself from him. Less than two hours after his arrest last week, New England cut Hernandez and removed his jersey from their pro shop at Gillette Stadium. This weekend, they will allow fans to exchange any Hernandez jersey that was bought at the stadium for another of equal value at no charge. Out with Hernandez, and in with Tim Tebow. But it isn't that simple and can't be that neat. New England has acted wisely and admirably in the immediate aftermath of this heinous story, but it can't be forgotten that New England was the organization that employed Hernandez. The Patriots chose Hernandez. Not once. Twice.
Do you agree or disagree with Fox's assessment? You can read Fox's full column on the Patriots' reputation here.
Can New England also recoup Hernandez's bonus and guaranteed money? It appears the Patriots will try their best to find out.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports the Patriots have voided all of Hernandez's remaining guaranteed money in the five-year, $40-million contract extension the tight end signed last summer. That reportedly includes Hernandez's $2.5 million guaranteed salary for this season, two $1 million workout bonuses and a $3.25 million portion of his signing bonus that was paid this year. Using simple math, the Patriots are trying to recoup just under $8 million after releasing Hernandez.
This will be a tricky battle for the Patriots. There is a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that protects teams for "conduct unbecoming" with a player. That is what the Patriots will claim with Hernandez, who was charged with murder and faces five additional gun charges for the death of a 27-year-old Boston man last week. However, this case is still under investigation and could be months away from determining Hernandez's guilt or innocence.
The Patriots elected not to keep Hernandez on the roster this season while the legal system runs its course. The move made sense for a lot of reasons. However, it could also make recouping Hernandez's guaranteed and bonus money more challenging.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, releasing Hernandez now eliminates any chance of New England recouping the upfront bonus money. Hernandez’s five-year, $40 million extension included a $12.5 million signing bonus.
By releasing Aaron Hernandez today, Patriots have waived all rights to recoup bonus money or salary through the CBA.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 26, 2013
Aaron Hernandez's new salary-cap charge in 2013 is $5.092 million, an increase of $1.019 million.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 26, 2013
Aaron Hernandez's 2014 salary-cap charge will be $7.5 million, which is remaining pro-ration of his signing bonus.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 26, 2013
The Patriots could have waited to release Hernandez and let legal situation play out. But it’s clear the team would rather take the financial hit now and move on with its season rather than to put up with a major distraction.
Here is the full statement, according to ESPNBoston.com:
"A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do."
The NFL also weighed in with this statement:
"The involvement of an NFL player in a case of this nature is deeply troubling. The Patriots have released Aaron Hernandez, who will have his day in court. At the same time, we should not forget the young man who was the victim in this case and take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathy to Odin Lloyd's family and friends."