When former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 2000, the situation was resolved well in advance of the opening of training camp. With Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, the timeline creates a major problem for the league, the team, and ultimately Hernandez.
The Pats go to camp on July 26. That’s five weeks from today. It’s highly unlikely that the Hernandez situation will be resolved within the next five weeks, barring a guilty plea.
So what will the Patriots and the league do with Hernandez on July 26? If, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Network recently reported, the Pats shooed Hernandez out of the facility on Thursday because the team didn’t want the stadium to be the site of a “media stakeout,” the Patriots won’t want training camp to be overtaken by the Hernandez saga — especially if, within the next five weeks, he’s arrested, charged, and/or indicted.
The only good news is that Tim Tebow suddenly would be attracting far less attention.
In 2007, former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted in mid-July. The NFL promptly told him to stay away from training camp. Vick didn’t fight it. In this case, perhaps Hernandez wouldn’t, either.
But he could, if he wanted. Hernandez could argue he’s innocent until proven guilty, and he’s entitled to keep working while he awaits trial.
Unfortunately for Hernandez, Commissioner Roger Goodell has the full discretion and authority to take action under the conduct policy, with the appeal landing back on his desk. Thus, Goodell basically can do whatever he wants.
What he chooses to do could be be influenced by the Patriots’ wishes and desires. And that will prompt the other 31 teams to carefully scrutinize the manner in which this is handled for signs of favoritism to the Pats.
If Hernandez weren’t a key player, it would be an easy call for New England. He’d be cut, or maybe he’d receive an offer like the one given to former Patriots defensive lineman Kyle Love after his diabetes diagnosis: Retire for a year, and then come back once the legal situation has concluded.
With Hernandez being one of the best players on the team, cutting him become less viable. Especially since that would prevent the team from ever recovering any of the multi-million-dollar signing bonus Hernandez received in 2012.