Aaron Hernandez Arrest: Pats Quickly Release TE, But Team Faces Cap Hit, Damage To Brand
Top members of the Patriots organization -- including Owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick -- "quietly decided last week that they would part ways" with TE Aaron Hernandez "if and when an arrest happened, even if it was for obstruction of justice," according to a source cited by Ben Volin of the BOSTON GLOBE. Hernandez was arrested on a murder charge yesterday morning and released by the Patriots "ninety minutes later." The Patriots' quick action "may hurt the team for the next two seasons" financially. However, as one member of the organization "emphasized repeatedly, this was one of the few NFL transactions that isn’t about the bottom line." It is about "disassociating the team from a player saddled with a heinous list of charges." Volin reports Hernandez' contract called for a $12.5M signing bonus -- prorated over five years for cap purposes -- and still has $10M "in salary cap money to be accounted for on the Patriots’ ledger." Cutting him now "accelerates those charges" -- $2.5M to be counted in '13 and the other $7.5M in '14. His guaranteed salaries totaling about $2.5M also will "be applied to this year’s salary cap." Cutting Hernandez will "increase his 2013 salary cap number by approximately" $1M to $5.1M, which will be "fifth-highest on the team." His '14 salary cap number could increase to $7.5M. The Patriots will "try to recover some money from Hernandez and obtain salary cap relief." The $12.5M signing bonus was "split into installments," and they will "look to recoup some of the money already paid, to avoid paying him" the final $3.25M installment, and to "void his future guaranteed money" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/27). USA TODAY's Lindsay Jones notes CBA language "allows teams to nullify contracts and recoup bonus money in the case of incarceration or other off-field transgressions, but Hernandez never missed any football-related activities before he was released" (USA TODAY, 6/27).
THE RIGHT THING TO DO: In California, Michael Lev writes the Patriots "did the right thing" in cutting Hernandez so quickly. It is "one thing to stand by a player who got in a fistfight," but quite another to "do so with a murder charge pending." They "had no other choice" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 6/27). YAHOO SPORTS' Les Carpenter wrote an NFL team in the past "might have carried a player such as Hernandez along, letting a trial play out and not taking a stand." Carpenter: "This is a different NFL. Image matters." And the Patriots, for "all the risks they have taken on players who have been in trouble in the past, want nothing to do with a player facing months of live television with a breaking news bar across the bottom of the screen" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/26). Columnist Kevin Blackistone said, "This is a public relations and marketing and moral and ethical decision that was made by the franchise, and I'm sure with the NFL's backing" ("PTI," ESPN, 6/26). FOXSPORTS.com Jen Floyd Engel writes, "The Patriots did not release him because they think this has ugly potential. I guarantee they did their own investigation, have their own police sources, probably were made privy to what lies ahead for Hernandez, and my guess is it is ugly" (FOXSPORTS.com, 6/27). WEEI.com's Christopher Price wrote it "wouldn't be a surprise if his image were simply wiped clean from the facility, like he was never there." Hernandez' personal page "is still up, but he's already been zapped from the roster on the team's website" (WEEI.com, 6/26).
NO REAL CHOICE: WEEI-FM's John Dennis said the Patriots could have kept Hernandez and "not had this conflict and controversy about how much money they can recoup.” But WEEI’s Gerry Callahan said, "They were going to stand by him and keep selling his shirts?” Dennis, "So they did the right thing. You don’t think they should be praised for doing the right thing?” Callahan said that releasing Hernandez was “the only thing” (“The Dennis & Callahan Show,” WEEI-FM, 6/27). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "If they don't release him, they are facing a barrage of questions" ("PTI," ESPN, 6/26).
DAMAGE TO PATRIOTS' IMAGE: ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss wrote Hernandez "put a black mark on the Patriots' franchise," and this could be the "low point in Robert Kraft's 20 years of ownership." The Patriots' brand and "what it represents, in the community and beyond, means a lot to Kraft and while releasing Hernandez ends the team's involvement with him, the slate doesn't just get wiped clean." However, in "one respect, the decisive action reflected well on the Patriots" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 6/26). In Boston, Karen Guregian writes while the Patriots "made the correct move" by cutting Hernandez, it "didn't erase the damage already done." Hernandez' allegations are "going to hang over the franchise like a black cloud." The "heinous crime further tarnishes a brand that's been on a downward spiral for a while." Guregian: "Between all of Rob Gronkowski’s Las Vegas high jinks and fun with porn stars, Alfonzo Dennard’s conviction on assaulting a police officer, players with performance enhancing drug suspensions, embarrassing sex tapes coming to light, and an often boorish head coach who spawned the term Spygate, it’s been a pretty rough ride of late for the Patriots and their brand" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/27). In Providence, Jim Donaldson writes, "Despite their ardent espousal of 'The Patriot Way,' the Pats have shown themselves more than willing to take players with problems if the reward is deemed to outweigh the risk." The Patriots for years under Belichick have been "willing to take a risk on a player if they felt the 'upside' was worth it." They now have "bottomed out" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 6/27). In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes Hernandez' alleged actions are "not the Patriots' fault," but at a "time when 'Patriot Way' has become a sickening parody of its own mythical origins, New England's front office needs to stop with the self-congratulation" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/27).