The New England Patriots released tight end Aaron Hernandez this morning after their former 4th round draft pick in 2010 from the University of Florida. Hernandez was an integral part of the offense the past three seasons and was expected to contribute into the future after receiving a 5-year $40 million contract extension. However, recent investigation of the contract numbers by website OverTheCap revealed that only $2.5 million of the $12.5 million signing bonus has been paid out by the Patriots to Hernandez. Therefore, the team is better protected from salary cap charges with the release of Hernandez than was initially reported.
The Patriots still have an actual payment of $3.25 million to be made to Hernandez on that signing bonus which is not due until 2014. If the Patriots chose to release him for conduct they would likely withhold that payment which would lead to the grievance process putting things in the hands of an arbitrator to decide what money is an is not owed to Hernandez and what money can be reclaimed. The process is straightforward if they allow the system to play out if they believe jail will occur.
In addition (and importantly):
Salary guarantees protect a player from skill, injury, or salary cap termination. They don’t protect a player for release due to personal conduct. Per the CBA a player can be released for the following: “You have engaged in personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects or reflects on the Club.” So if Hernandez has put himself in a situation where he becomes more than a person of interest and an actual suspect in murder investigation or admits some participation in a crime there should be an avenue to release Hernandez and avoid the payment of his 2013 and 2014 salaries.
The release of Hernandez shortly following his arrest is a strong statement by Owner Robert Kraft, President Jonathan Kraft, Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio, and Head Coach Bill Belichick of their belief in, and affirmation of, “the Patriot Way”.
The Patriot Way is the ethos and methodology used–often by outsiders–to explain how the New England Patriots handle their team top to bottom. It was defined well by Andy Benoit of the New York Times in his NFL Blog, the Fifth Down:
The Patriot Way is the embodiment of every cliché known in sports: no “I” in team; let your play do the talking; one step at a time; just trying to get better, doing whatever it takes to win. It’s pretty straightforward stuff that trickles down from the owner Robert Kraft to Coach Bill Belichick to everyone else. Belichick’s Patriots are so business-oriented that they themselves rarely even talk about The Patriot Way. The phrase is mainly the outside world’s way of explaining the culture of this very successful organization.
Coach Bill Belichick is notorious for eliminating any and all distractions from playing football. By releasing Aaron Hernandez right now, almost a month before training camp commences, the distraction is gone for the other players. Players have a month to let the story blow over, and after the first day of camp, there is no need to address the issue. Once the players, coaches, and team officials make their statements (if they choose to), the issue goes away and the focus is on roster spots and playing football.
For the team, they free up a roster spot to add another tight end like free agents David Thomas or Dallas Clark to replace Hernandez on the team (be sure to see the recent piece about these two on MusketFire.com by Lead Editor Joe Soriano, New England Patriots Rumors: Dallas Clark, David Thomas Targets?). Also, undrafted free agent tight end Zach Sudfeld impressed in the OTAs and mini-camps and has an excellent opportunity to carve out a role on the roster.
The New England Patriots organization has sent a shot across the bow to all their players, all the other teams in the league, and to anyone paying attention that as an organization there is one way, and one way only: the Patriots Way.