Aaron Hernandez’s Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes WelkerAaron Hernandez says he was "emotional" when he and the Patriots began discussing a long-term contract extension earlier this offseason. Now, the talented 22-year-old tight end simply says he feels "blessed."

After yet another season of establishing himself as a valuable player in New England's offense, Hernandez now has the big-money deal to show just how much he is worth. Five years and $40 million is nothing to scoff at — those are the same figures the likes of Ray Rice and Arian Foster saw earlier this offseason. And just like those guys, Hernandez deserves every penny of it.

A fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2010, no one expected Hernandez to blow up the way he has in New England. No one. But given the proper motivation and the right system, the hybrid tight end has flourished into a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.

But while Hernandez is rewarded for his outstanding achievements, one of his many talented teammates finds himself at the opposite end of the situation. Wes Welker, who has the most receptions of any receiver in the NFL since 2007, was looking for a similar deal during the offseason. Instead, Welker still lacks any sense of long-term security. While he is playing under the franchise tag for a hefty $9.5 million this year, he will also be one year older when he has another chance to try for a more firm commitment.

Welker may have caught 43 more passes than Hernandez, racked up 659 more yards and hauled in two more touchdowns last season, but the fact remains that Hernandez is a full nine years younger.

With both Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski (six years, $64 million) locked up through at least 2018, the Patriots offense appears to be headed in a different direction. Welker's role may still be an important one within the team, but the reality of the situation is that Hernandez (who is also four inches taller) can more than sufficiently fill that role. He may not be exactly the same sort of receiver as Welker, but he has the ability to provide the same impact across the middle and after the catch.

The sad reality of Hernandez's new contract is that while the humble, respectful Welker says he's "happy for" Hernandez, he's actually condoning the same guy who will eventually replace him on this team.

Welker's days in New England are not yet numbered, and — who knows? — maybe he will work out an extension to stick around after all. But as Welker's days in Patriot blue slowly grow thinner, it will become ever more apparent that Tom Brady's final passes in the NFL will be caught by Gronk and Hernandez and likely not Welker.

It's now the Boston TE party's turn to carry the load in New England, and as both are still in their early 20s, it's likely they will also be tasked with carrying the legacy when Brady and company are no more.

This will be Brady's team until the day he decides to hang up his cleats and tuck himself away in his $12 million mansion. But anxiously awaiting the next opportunity are two gentlemen perfectly fit to bear the Patriots emblem on their chest who already embracing the Patriot way.

NFL Trendsetters
1 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker
Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots

After yet another sensational season with the Patriots, Aaron Hernandez earned his big-money deal. On Monday, he got it. Hernandez scored a five-year, $40 million extension, keeping him in New England until at least 2018. The long-term deal will have both Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski see Tom Brady off into the sunset and likely means the Patriots offense is set to continue with its recent tight end-heavy scheme.
Hernandez likes to make it rain, figuratively, as his go-to touchdown celebration. Now, he has the money to do it for real.

2 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks

Wilson cracks the "Starting 11" for the second straight week. After yet another spectacular performance, this time a 44-14 romp over the Kansas City Chiefs, Wilson was named the Seahawks starting quarterback for Week 1 of the regular season. So much for Matt Flynn's role as savior in Seattle. It looks like that was $26 million well spent — am I right?
Either way, it's one small steps for Russ, one giant leap for undersized quarterbacks everywhere.

3 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Miami Dolphins

Jake Long was forced out of practice Monday afternoon with a knee injury that doesn't look good for the Dolphins left tackle. Early reports indicate that it's just a sprained MCL for Long, but just to be clear, that is no joke. Even a sprain will probably keep him out for four to six weeks, and at that point, Ryan Tannehill could well be 6 feet and 4 inches of mush, especially given the shape of that hodgepodge offensive line. So, get well soon, Jake. Lord knows Miami needs you.

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Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Pacman Jones loved to make it rain in the strip clubs, but apparently his former teammate Dez Bryant will never get that opportunity. Bryant has been given some pretty stern marching orders by Jerry Jones and the Cowboys heading into the 2012 season that specifically prohibit attendance at any strip clubs. But even worse than a prima donna wide receiver missing out on a nudie party? Having a babysitter 24/7. Bryant is now being subject to having his own personal "bodyguard," which sounds to be more of a caretaker than anything. Well, Dez, I hope this teaches you to treat your mom with some more respect and maybe stop dropping so many deep balls.

5 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker
Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Terrell Owens, WR, Free Agent

Another tough week in practice, and an underwhelming performance in his second consecutive preseason action, saw Owens get the axe at Monday's 75-man roster deadline. It's been a rough few years for the six-time Pro Bowler. He's now 38 years old and has already had one knee replacement, not to mention so much off-field baggage. It could finally be quitting time for T.O. Why don't we hang up the old cleats and get on with your booming reality TV career? Maybe you can buddy up with Jeff Kent and become the next former athlete on "Survivor."

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Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots

While Aaron Hernandez tops the list with a fat, new contract, Wes Welker finds himself in a precarious position as he watches his younger teammate strut about with the money Welker feels he deserves. After signing his franchise tender in the offseason, Welker called it a "leap of faith" that the Patrios would eventually reward his loyalty with a nice, new deal of his own. Not quite. Owner Robert Kraft is still adamant that he wants Welker to be a Patriot for life, but that label also comes at a price, and that price isn't $9 million a year for a 31-year-old wideout. Sorry, Wes.

7 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Arian Foster, RB, Texans

Arian Foster decided to go vegan this offseason. He also humorously appears in ESPN's new Monday Night Football ad as well as on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's fantasy football edition, standing next to a unicorn. Not only is Foster a growing legend among the fantasy football community — he's going No. 1 overall in nearly every league –  but his quirky yet humble personality is building a solid reputation — as well as his Twitter feed — for the back-to-back 1,200-yard rusher.

8 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Vince Young, QB, Free Agent

Six years ago, VY was the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft. Today, he's a journeyman backup quarterback that even the Buffalo Bills — yes, those Buffalo Bills — can't find room for on their roster. Young is still a talented quarterback with a strong arm and quick legs, but now at 29 he's beginning to teeter on the "old" line. Maybe it's time for him to become a more accurate passer so teams will stop giving him the pass sign. I'm not sure exactly what that looks like, but I picture something like this.

9 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker
Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

Stafford finally broke out of his oft-injured shell in 2011, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and becoming the elite passer he was thought to be when drafted first overall in 2009. But Calvin Johnson's slinging partner is back on the shelf after popping a blood vessel in his non-throwing hand. Seriously, does anyone have worse luck than this guy? He's entering his fourth season and has yet another injury. Luckily this one shouldn't keep him from the season opener, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on as the season moves forward.

10 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos

Two preseason starts amounted to two interceptions and no touchdowns for Peyton Manning. Maybe the fears were coming true and Manning just would never be the same quarterback. Or maybe it's just the preseason. Manning threw two touchdowns in the Broncos' third preseason tuneup, and for his three exhibitions, he's an impressive 30-for-42 for 343 yards. It looks like the four-time MVP is back and ready to lead the Broncos to what he hopes is a playoff berth and so much more. I'm skeptical, but for the time being, an extended golf clap should suffice.

11 Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Wayne Hunter, OT, Rams

Hunter was finally relieved of his yearlong scrutiny on Monday night, and that's the reason the Jets logo appears to the left here. After allowing the third most sacks (11) in the leagues in 2011, Hunter was bashed time and again by the New York media for his lack of protection for Mark Sanchez. This preseason the right tackle has already allowed 2 1/2 sacks and looks lost once again. Rex Ryan finally swapped the struggling lineman for another underachiever in the Rams Jason Smith. Luckily for Hunter, he's at least getting a fresh start in a new city without the unrealistic expectations that come with being a New York Jet.

Photo of the Week

For Robert Griffin, even when it's first down, it's still III down.

Aaron Hernandez's Big-Money Contract Is Perfect Fit for Patriots but Could Signal End for Wes Welker

Tweet of the Week

The mind of Arian Foster is an interesting place. How do you get here in the span of one hour?

Quote of the Week

"One of the touching moments since I've known the team — knowing that
this is our charitable gala tonight — Aaron [Hernandez] came into my office, a
little teary-eyed and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to
Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund. I said 'Aaron, you don't have
to do this, you've already got your contract.' And he said 'No, it
makes me feel good, and I want to do it.' "
– Robert Kraft on Aaron Hernandez's thoughtful gesture after getting his new contract

Video of the Week

Dez Bryant can't go to strip clubs, but Jerry Jones can do this? Criminal.

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