Kraft breaks silence on Hernandez

Updated: July 9, 2013, 9:59 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft addressed reporters Monday for the first time regarding Aaron Hernandez's murder charge, saying "If this stuff is true, then I've been duped and our whole organization has been duped."

Kraft, who believed Hernandez was a "most likable young man," said the Patriots "made a mistake and are facing it head on," which includes a process in which they will "renew efforts and look at procedures."

[+] EnlargeKraft/Hernandez
AP Photo/David DrapkinRobert Kraft said the Patriots had no knowledge of Aaron Hernandez's actions when he was away from Gillette Stadium.

"You can be sure we'll be looking at our procedures and auditing how we do things," Kraft told reporters from ESPNBoston.com, The Boston Globe and Boston Herald in a 40-minute session in his office.

The session was called on Kraft's first business day back in the United States, as he had been in Europe when he first learned of Hernandez being charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd. Kraft said Monday it was "important that our fan base hear directly from our organization" in a face-to-face setting.

"My heart goes out to the Lloyd family," he said. "I feel bad that someone connected to our organization is connected to this."

Kraft -- who explained that he had to be limited in his remarks because of an ongoing criminal investigation as well as other potential civil proceedings, and was speaking against the advice of his general counsel -- began by reading a statement to reporters.

"Following Aaron's arrest, I read a number of different accounts of how things transpired in our organization. Let me be clear: We decided the week prior to Aaron's arrest that if Aaron was arrested in connection with the Lloyd murder case that we would cut him immediately after," he said.

"The rationale behind that decision was that 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, who repeated that the club did not know Hernandez would be facing a murder charge when it released him, said the Patriots had no knowledge of Hernandez's actions outside of Gillette Stadium.

"When he was in our building, we never saw anything where he was not polite. He was always respectful to me. We only know what's going on inside the building. We don't put private eyes on people," he said.

Kraft then shared a letter written by Hernandez before the 2010 draft in which Hernandez addressed his alleged use of marijuana at the University of Florida and agreed to biweekly drug tests throughout his rookie season if the Patriots drafted him. Hernandez also agreed to tie any guaranteed portion of his 2010 compensation to drug tests.

"I ask you to trust me when I say you have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to me and the use of recreational drugs," Hernandez wrote on the letterhead of the agency that represented him, Athletes First. "I have set very high goals for myself in the NFL and am focused 100 percent on achieving those goals."

The Patriots drafted Hernandez in the fourth round that year, 113th overall, an area where Kraft said the team has taken risks with players in the past.

As for the level of risk with Hernandez, Kraft said, "The only thing I was aware of was in this letter." He added that Hernandez was "putting his money where his mouth was" by agreeing to reimburse the team for part of his contract if a drug test was failed.

In August 2012, as Hernandez entered his third NFL season, the Patriots signed him to a contract extension through 2018 that included a $12.5 million signing bonus and could have been worth almost $40 million.

Kraft said he was told by coach Bill Belichick that after the extension, Hernandez had one of the best training camp performances of any player on the team. When asked whether the Patriots had Hernandez on any "team- or coach-imposed short leash," Kraft said the team wouldn't have signed him to that type of contract if that was the case.

"It obviously wasn't the correct decision," he said.

At the time, Hernandez donated $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund.

"He spoke to me about wanting to be a role model in the Hispanic community," Kraft said. "... I believed him. ... He knew how to push my buttons."

Kraft pointed to his family's 20 years of ownership, and all the players signed by the club, in saying "by and large, the organization has done a good job."

The Patriots will absorb a $7.5 million salary cap charge in 2014 by releasing Hernandez, which will affect the club's ability to field as competitive a team as desired. While the Patriots could have waited to release Hernandez, and perhaps not taken such a big salary cap charge, Kraft said "principle is more important than money."

"There are big costs, big distractions; everything we don't want happening," he said.

Kraft also said the team also had about 2,500 Hernandez jerseys returned to its pro shop over the last two days, with fans exchanging them free of charge, which cost the club around $250,000. He said the Hernandez jerseys turned in would be "ground up and recycled."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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