|ESPN.com: NFL||[Print without images]|
Less than two hours after tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested Wednesday in connection with a homicide near his home in North Attleborough, Mass., the New England Patriots released their star tight end, saying in a statement they felt it was "simply the right thing to do."
"A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss," the statement from the Patriots read. "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."
A few hours later, the 23-year-old Hernandez was charged with killing an aquaintance, Odin Lloyd, more than a week ago. He also faces five weapons charges in relation to the murder.
"The involvement of an NFL player in a case of this nature is deeply troubling," read a statement from the NFL. "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."
The Patriots drafted Hernandez, originally from Bristol, Conn., out of the University of Florida in 2010. Last summer, the team signed him to a five-year contract worth $40 million. The deal included a $12.5 million signing bonus. When looking solely at the signing bonus and base salaries, Hernandez has earned $9.79 million of the extension.
His new salary-cap charge in 2013 is just more than $5 million, an increase of about $1 million, league sources told ESPN. For 2014, that charge will be $7.5 million, the remaining proration of his signing bonus.
It's unclear what kind of communication, if any, the Patriots had with the NFL regarding Hernandez's contract over the past nine days. By releasing Hernandez on Wednesday, the Patriots appear to have waived all rights to recoup any bonus money or salary through the collective bargaining agreement.
One other factor to consider: A club can recover bonus money and avoid a cap hit if a player violates one of the league's personal-conduct policies or defaults on contract language. It's possible the Patriots have talked to the NFL about this, but that's unknown at this point.
Over the past three seasons, Hernandez had established himself as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, averaging about 58 receptions and six touchdowns per season. He is subject to the NFL's waiver system, giving all 31 other teams a chance to claim him.
In Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots arguably had the best tight end tandem in the NFL. With Hernandez no longer with the team and questions about whether Gronkowski (back surgery) will be ready to start the season, a position of depth suddenly has become a position of need.
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Field Yates and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was used in this report.