Less than a year after signing a contract that made him a 22-year-old millionaire, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is behind bars, awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge and several firearm-related charges in the death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd.
Hernandez’s absence is expected to shake up the New England offense, and it’s also caused the ever-consistent Patriots to drop on the Super Bowl futures market. Oddsmakers had the Patriots at 5-1 to win the big game before Hernandez’s arrest and subsequent release. The Pats are now at 9-1 to win the Super Bowl.
Just last year, things were looking up for Hernandez and the Patriots — way up. The two parties had agreed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract extension, including $16 million in guaranteed money. The Patriots locked up one of their star tight ends — an essential cog in the team’s fast-paced offense — until 2018. Hernandez got rich quick.
Hernandez was never a stranger to trouble, but he had seemingly cleaned up his act since being drafted by the Patriots in 2010. His renewed outlook on life and the fact that he racked up 175 catches, 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns in three years led the Patriots to offer the contract. After all, Hernandez appeared to be a changed man. Now, he faces life in prison and is even being investigated in a separate incident, the shooting death of two men in summer 2012. His NFL career is likely over, and he’s now infamous for all the wrong reasons.
The inevitable hole left in the Patriots’ offense caused by the release of Hernandez will be a tough one to fill, with New England already thin on both NFL experience and talent when it comes to the receiving corps. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins have 550 receptions, 6,153 yards and 32 touchdowns in 15 years of combined NFL experience. To put that in perspective, the tight end duo of Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined for 362 catches, 4,619 yards and 56 touchdowns in only seven years of NFL experience. Now Hernandez is gone, but so too could be Gronkowski (until Week 6 at the least) after having his fifth surgery since November 2012.
The Patriots have one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady, but he is likely well aware that things just won’t be the same in 2013.
Last year, Brady relied on Wes Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez to spread the field for speedster Brandon Lloyd and open up the ground game for running back Stevan Ridley. This year, only Ridley and the hobbled Gronkowski remain. Amendola has the potential to be great, but he has struggled to stay on the field (22 games lost to injury over five years). Jake Ballard will fill in for Hernandez or, more specifically, he’ll try to. Ballard has 38 catches, 604 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons. He is merely a shadow of Hernandez.
The Patriots are still favored to win the AFC East at -400, which shows how good Brady is and how oddsmakers value the football mind of Bill Belichick. Like the public, the Patriots will move forward.