Of course the biggest story in the NFL last week was the news surrounding New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, and his potential involvement in the homicide of Odin Lloyd.
Lloyd was found dead last Monday afternoon after confirmation that he was with Hernandez the preceding evening. As of Sunday night, a warrant had been issued for Hernandez on obstruction of justice charges, stemming from reports that he destroyed his cell phone, security system, and had his home cleaned by maids. Certainly raises suspicions about Hernandez’s guilt.
But I won’t really comment on the legal side of things. I am neither a policeman nor a lawyer. We have a justice system in this country, and as far as I am concerned it says that a man is innocent until proven guilty. So I won’t speculate on whether Hernandez is guilty of anything besides probably picking a bad day to destroy items that would be very helpful in a murder investigation.
But I suspect regardless of how Hernandez’s legal situation plays out, we won’t be seeing him suit up for the Patriots in 2013. Given Roger Goodell’s penchant for slamming down the hammer regardless of whether a player is guilty of anything, makes me believe that before Patriots training camp starts at the end of July, we’ll see him receive an indefinite suspension until his legal situation is resolved. This happened with Michael Vick back in 2007 after he was indicted following federal dogfighting charges. We also saw the same with Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent following his indictment on manslaughter charges following his December car accident that resulted in the death of teammate Jerry Brown. Now in both cases, the common denominator is indictment. We’ll see what happens with Hernandez, but I suspect even if an indictment is not reached before July 25, when the Patriots open up camp, Goodell will ask him to simply stay away from the team as was the case with both Vick and Brent.
Well that’s about as far as I care to venture down the legal hole in terms of Hernandez’s situation, and now I’d like to switch gears to how it affects the football side of things. We already know that Rob Gronkowski’s recent back surgery puts his start to the 2013 season in jeopardy. It wouldn’t be that shocking if he too doesn’t play for the Patriots this year due to this injury. Gronkowski had an unrelated back ailment coming out of Arizona in 2010, and has had a number of injuries since joining the team. If Gronk does wind up playing this year, I don’t expect he’ll be at his previous level. And if he does return to form, it probably won’t be until the latter half of the season. Regardless, at best Gronk probably only gives the Patriots 50% of what he did in previous seasons.
That leaves the Patriots without the top three weapons from last year’s team going into 2013. They lost Wes Welker via free agency, replacing him with Danny Amendola. But their offensive identity was really built around the pair of tight ends in Hernandez and Gronkowski, that created such matchup problems with opposing defenses. It really is the equivalent if the Falcons lost Julio, Roddy, and Tony all the span of a five months.
It likely means that the Patriots offensive identity might have to switch more towards being a run-first team. Opposing defenses won’t be put in the quandary of trying to figure out how to match up with their passing attack if Hernandez and Gronkowski aren’t on the field. Gronk was the inline tight end, but was without question the best in the league the past two seasons. You couldn’t cover him with a safety or linebacker, as he was too fast, and he was too physical for a corner. Hernandez was a jack of all trades type of player that would be used like a wide receiver, tight end, H-back, and fullback at times. His role was reminiscent to Reggie Bush’s in New Orleans, where he wasn’t the best player on the field, but you always had to account for him. And because of the different alignments he could appear in, it made it very difficult to game plan against them.