Aaron Hernandez. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Lindsay H. Jones, USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots ended their silence regarding Aaron Hernandez's involvement in a homicide investigation when the team released the star tight end Wednesday morning, less than two hours after he was arrested and led from his North Attleborough, Mass. home, a move that could cost Hernandez $37 million.
Hernandez is expected to be arraigned on undisclosed charges later today. He has been under investigation since June 18 in the slaying of acquaintance Odin Lloyd, whose body was discovered less than a mile from Hernandez's home.
The Patriots released a statement following their decision to cut ties with Hernandez:
"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."
Once the Patriots released Hernandez, the league also made its first comments since the homicide investigation began.
"The involvement of an NFL player in a case of this nature is deeply troubling," the NFL said in a statement released by spokesman Greg Aiello. "The Patriots have released Aaron Hernandez, who will have his day in court. At the same time, we should not forget the young man who was the victim in this case and take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathy to Odin Lloyd's family and friends."
The Patriots drafted Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, believing they got a steal of a player with first-round talent whose stock slipped because of off-field character concerns. The Patriots signed him to a long-term contract worth nearly $40 million last summer after he excelled in his first two seasons - and also stayed out of any sort of trouble. He had no prior arrests nor suspensions under the NFL's personal conduct police.
Hernandez received a $12.5 million signing bonus with that deal last August. The Patriots will likely try to recoup $10 million of that bonus - the amount set to be paid out through 2018. He received $2.5 million of that bonus last year. It is still unclear how Hernandez's release will affect the Patriots' salary cap, though he should continue to count as "dead money" for years to come.
Hernandez received his new contract at age 22, and after only two seasons. He had only three years' experience when he was released Wednesday, so he will be subject to the NFL waiver system that will allow other teams to place a claim on him before 4 p.m. ET Thursday.
But with Hernandez embroiled in a homicide investigation, it would be quite the risk - and public relations nightmare - for any team to do so. If a team were to claim Hernandez, they would also pick up the rest of his contract.
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