Aaron Hernandez is arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the NFL, and the New England Patriots have locked him up to a deal that will take him through the 2018 season. Hernandez was playing on a two-year, $1.115 million rookie-level deal, so he is getting a pay raise, long term security, and will not be a free agent in 2014. That’s huge for the Patriots, who locked up Rob Gronkowski through 2019 in the offseason; it gives them the, by far, top tight end duo in the NFL for the foreseeable future.
There is no doubt that a player like Hernandez would be a huge target for teams in 2014, so the Patriots have decided to not risk trying to get him to sign a deal then or give him the franchise tag. Hernandez is in for the long haul, and the Patriots are certainly better for it. The financial implications are going to be huge for the Patriots, as the team did give Gronkowski $54 million over six years.
Although Hernandez has a higher importance than Gronk as a receiver, he does not block at the level that his fellow superstar TE does. Once the financial details get out, it becomes easier to analyze the deal.
Extending him was necessary, and some fans were guessing that one would come on the way. Why wait when both sides are willing to get something done now? This extension is key for the Patriots future, and the team will have the 22-year-old Florida product throughout the prime of his NFL career. He is an absolute monster for defenses to account for, as he can line up virtually anywhere and wreak havoc.
Josh McDaniels is going to be using him quite often, and this is the year that the game-changing TE is going to erupt. 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games is terrific, but Hernandez can hit 1,000 yards in 2012. He’s going to be an even bigger part of the Pats passing game in 2012 and beyond. It’s awesome to have two incredible tight ends locked up.
However, an extension for Hernandez further increases the notion that Wes Welker will be gone. Both command a high amount of targets and are top offensive weapons in the passing game, but Welker is older and is in a contract dispute. He wants far too much money than the Patriots are willing to give, so a big deal to Hernandez means that there is a chance Welker is gone. There’s nothing conclusive at this point and it’s all just speculation, but it’s something to think about.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.