After the authorities arrested former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for killing Odin Lloyd in June 2013, the team swiftly terminated a big-money contract Hernandez had inked the prior August. In October, Hernandez filed a grievance seeking payment of fully guaranteed money along with the final $3.25 million installment of his $12.5 million signing bonus.
With Hernandez now accused of killing two men more than a month before signing the contract, an interesting question arises. Does the fact that Hernandez allegedly (or, based on the outcome of the trial, actually) gunned down two men before signing the contract enhance the team’s case?
Probably not, based on the relevant language of the labor deal. The biggest problem for the Patriots flows from the fact that they cut Hernandez. If they’d kept Hernandez during an inevitable league-imposed suspension, the Patriots eventually could have recovered $10 million in signing bonus money at the rate of $2.5 million per year from 2014 through 2017. By cutting him, the Patriots arguably have waived the ability to claim that Hernandez has forfeited any of his signing bonus money.
But, as they saw in the legal profession, bad facts make bad law. The extreme circumstances involving Hernandez could result in an arbitrator twisting and distorting the terms of the labor deal to allow the Patriots to pursue the $10 million in signing bonus money that had not been fully earned by Hernandez before they cut him.
On the other hand, they cut him. They didn’t have to cut him. The Falcons didn’t cut Mike Vick when he went to jail in 2007 for dogfighting, and the Falcons eventually recovered significant bonus money from him. The Patriots easily could have handled the potential P.R. problem by explaining that they had to keep Hernandez on the roster in order to be able to recover their money.