June 27, 2013

Patriots Beat: A tight end who may have dropped the ball

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Goodbye Aaron Hernandez. We hardly knew you.

Actually, based on what we learned Wednesday, maybe we didn't know you at all.

Hernandez, heralded as a new breed of football player who would revolutionize the tight end position because of his speed, agility and pass-catching ability, is no longer a New England Patriot. More precisely, he's no longer a free man.

Hernandez was arrested Wednesday morning, released by the Patriots almost immediately and later charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old man whose body was found about a mile from Hernandez's home in North Attleborough, Mass. Hernandez, who is being held without bail, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge as well as five gun-related charges.

This comes less than a year after Hernandez signed a five-year contract worth $40 million that would have made him a wealthy man for life. This comes less than a year after he shed tears of joy, not only for the money but for the faith the Patriots were showing in him.

Hernandez, a 23-year-old Connecticut native, said at the time that "I just hope I keep going, doing the right things, making the right decisions so I can have a good life."

The evidence presented Wednesday in Attleboro District Court by prosecutor William McCauley -- a detailed, comprehensive presentation of the evidence in the case -- is potentially damning.

Surveillance videos show Hernandez leaving his house with a gun, McCauley said. Text messages from Lloyd to relatives place him with Hernandez just before the time of his death. McCauley said surveillance video at the North Attleborough industrial park where Lloyd was found show the men arriving in a silver Nissan that was rented in Hernandez's name, and people working at the park reported hearing gunshots soon after. A surveillance video at Hernandez's home shows him walking around with a gun after Lloyd's death, according to the prosecutor.

Hernandez showed no emotion, first as the charges were read, then as the evidence was presented.

Hernandez's lawyer, Michael Fee, called the case "circumstantial." He said, "Aaron is fine."

Really?

Regardless of what happens in court, Hernandez's life is far from fine.

His career is over.

The Patriots, who immediately pulled his jerseys from the racks of their pro shop, wasted little time cutting ties with him after his arrest, issuing a statement approximately 45 minutes later that said: "A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. 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."

While other teams can claim him off waivers, it's doubtful they will.

NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, a former Boston reporter who covered the Patriots, reported that team owner Robert Kraft and Coach Bill Belichick had decided last week to release Hernandez if he was arrested for any involvement in the homicide investigation.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement: "The involvement of an NFL player in a case of this nature is deeply troubling."

Everything about this incident is troubling.

Hernandez came to the team in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, a young man with first-round talent but the baggage of failed drug tests at the University of Florida and other questions regarding his character.

For three years he combined with Rob Gronkowski to form the best duo of tight ends in the league.

Now? Patriots fans are wondering what's next for the team. Gronkowski is recovering from recent back surgery (and four surgeries on his left forearm); Wes Welker left the team as a free agent for Denver; Danny Woodhead headed to San Diego; Brandon Lloyd was released.

Fans wonder whom Tom Brady will throw to. They worry that the Patriots' offense, annually one of the highest-scoring in the NFL, will stall.

At this point none of that matters.

The lives of two families have been damaged forever. Hernandez is now in jail, leaving behind his fiancee and their infant daughter. Odin Lloyd is dead, his family left with only memories.

In the end, think about the families. And pray for them.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

 

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