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Aaron Hernandez Will Change the Way Teams Evaluate Risk

“I’m glad it worked out,” said Bill Belichick, commenting on Aaron Hernandez’s five year contract extension with the Patriots shortly after the 22-year-old signed a $40 million deal in 2012. Spoke too soon, Coach Billy. 

The arrest of the star tight end on murder charges has dragged Attleboro, Massachusetts into the national spotlight, where the tight end is accused in the execution-style murder of Odin Lloyd (where he displayed a thorough knowledge of the OJ Simpson Handbook for Appearing Guilty).

Aside from Belichick explicitly banning his players from making potentially “jinxing” statements, the Hernandez situation is sure to have far-reaching implications in NFL circles. As Hernandez’s involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd picked up steam, fragments of his checkered past have continually trickled into the public eye. Hernandez represents the chance teams take on players with questionable character, friends, and habits, and it is sure to influence the way every organization evaluates prospects that come with any sort of baggage.   

It is especially noteworthy that the NFL’s ongoing murder drama occurred in New England. Had a Bear, Steeler, or Giant been involved in a similar situation, the team would be less significant. That it happened to a member of Brady’s Bunch is going to impact the NFL because of. . .

  1. The Patriots’ successful management of players who are a cause for concern

Any young, NFL star being accused of murder is sure to draw shocking headlines. The fact that it was a member of the storied New England Patriots is even more surprising. New England has developed a reputation for giving troubled players a second chance, but also as a simultaneously hardline franchise. The Pats have been willing to give the likes of Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, and Albert Haynesworth another shot because Bill Belichick moonlights as an Uncoachable Athlete Guidance Counselor. Foxborough has become the NFL’s career rejuvenation headquarters—the last chance for players who wear out their welcome elsewhere. However…

  1. The Patriots don’t hand out multimillion dollar deals every day

. . . These same Patriots are also notoriously stingy when it comes to handing out lucrative long-term deals, as well as displaying a low tolerance for tomfoolery from players with poor reputations. We’re talking about the same team that cut loose straight-laced Wes Welker this offseason, despite recording a staggering 112 receptions per season during his time in New England. Randy Moss’s record-setting 2007 campaign was quickly forgotten after he displayed the slightest hint of dissatisfaction, earning his walking papers early in the 2010 season. Belichick and Co. felt that Hernandez had earned a fat payday, even though. . .

  1. The Patriots were a supreme judge of character 

. . . His past brought up more red flags than a Buccaneers’ home game. Given the Patriots’ sterling reputation for keeping their temperamental players in line, the Hernandez contract extension appeared to signal supreme confidence in the newfound direction of their young tight end. New England’s success with question-mark players made Hernandez’s $40 million deal a league-wide indicator that Hernandez had departed from the gang-affiliated lifestyle that caused him to be removed from many teams’ draft boards in 2010. The fact that it backfired on the Patriots means that. . .

  1. The NFL will never view troubled players the same

. . . Scouts and organizations are going to readjust their method for gauging the risk/reward of players who have gang affiliation or have been involved in violence. The annual draft sees plenty of prospects that have early-round talent but who fall due to behavioral issues during university or high school. The NFL has seen its share of redemption stories, but with a gruesome and highly publicized example of what can go wrong, we can expect to see less risk-taking in the draft and free-agency. However, it remains to be seen if. . .

  1. The Cincinnati Bengals stop raiding county jails for talent

. . . The NFL’s team of bandits alters their strategy of happily picking up players who have become well-acquainted with local law enforcement. The Bengals don’t let a season pass by without seeing multiple confrontations with police, and while they have never had an issue that approaches Hernandez’s predicament, the former Patriot may cause Cincinnati executives to rethink the culture they’ve fostered in recent years. If a serious crime could occur under strict watch in New England, isn’t it just a matter of time for a team that draws annual headlines for player misconduct? While I am certainly not proposing that the Bengals should expect one of their players to commit a similar atrocity, it is just a reminder that risk-taking has its downfalls (take note, Cowboys).

The cold-blooded murder of Odin Lloyd is a senseless tragedy that cannot be equated with DUIs, bar fights, and other less serious crimes that NFL players are too frequently involved in.  It also must be remembered that Aaron Hernandez is innocent until proven guilty.

The legal process will play itself out, but in the meantime, NFL teams have been served a warning: think long and hard before you draft, and then subsequently pony up big bucks for a player whose demons may outweigh their 40-yard-dash time.


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