Patriots organization under microscope off and on field

The Patriots waited until the image of their star tight end being led out of his home and into a police cruiser was broadcast on national television to rid themselves of a major problem. The timing on the matter will, of course, be discussed for months to come. Did the organization wait too long to release a person that would eventually be arrested in connection to the murder of a young man? Or did they act swiftly, as the Patriots have seemingly always done when it comes to distractions (this being one that could very well tarnish the reputation of the long-proud franchise for years to come), and cut ties with a troubled athlete ahead of things playing out in court?

No one knows if the Patriots knew anything more about the Hernandez case than the public did during these past 10 days in which news reporters were staked outside of his home around the clock. They did turn him away from Gillette Stadium last Thursday when he reportedly wanted to work out at the facility and they did release a statement Wednesday regarding the case.

“A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss,” the statement said. “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.”

Hernandez played three seasons with the Patriots, catching 175 balls for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns in 38 games. The former University of Florida standout signed a monster seven-year, $41 million deal just last year.

On the field, the Patriots move forward with major questions at the once-stacked tight end position. Hernandez’s career in Foxboro is done and Rob Gronkowski is recovering from surgery on his forearm and back. Tom Brady’s leading receiver from 2012, Wes Welker, signed with the Denver Broncos in March.

Former Giant Jake Ballard caught 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 with New York and will likely get a starting nod at tight end to begin the season. Other candidates at tight end include Daniel Fells (played 13 games in 2012 with four catches), Michael Hoomanawanui (five catches for 109 yards in 2012), Zach Sudfeld (undrafted free agent out of Nevada) and Brandon Ford (undrafted free agent out of Clemson).

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has never had to endure such a tumultuous off-season during his 13 years in New England. The questions regarding the Pats actions and inactions off the field and their actions and inactions on the field will come at a rapid pace as we near the beginning of training camp on Thursday, July 25.


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