The New England Patriots didn’t wait for Aaron Hernandez’s legal troubles to play themselves out.
Hours after police arrested Hernandez in connection with a homicide probe Wednesday, the Patriots cut the tight end who had signed a five-year deal with New England just last summer.
“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,” the team said in a statement. “We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.”
Hernandez was taken from his home in handcuffs early Wednesday, more than a week after a Boston semi-pro football player was found dead in an industrial park a mile from Hernandez’s house.
Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old member of the Boston Bandits, was found slain June 17. Officials ruled the death a homicide but did not say how Lloyd died.
The NFL released a statement expressing sympathy to Lloyd’s family.
“The involvement of an NFL player in a case of this nature is deeply troubling. The Patriots have released Aaron Hernandez, who will have his day in court,” it read. “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 23-year-old Hernandez was an All-American at Florida and part of a tight end duo in New England that was among the league’s most productive.
But heading into the 2010 NFL draft at least one team said it took him off its draft board — refusing to select him under any circumstances — and all of the other teams in the league bypassed him repeatedly as he fell to New England in the fourth round.
Afterward, Hernandez said he had failed a single drug test in college — reportedly for marijuana — and was up front with teams about it.
Ever since he became entangled in the investigation into Lloyd’s death, other off-field issues have become public.
A South Florida man filed a lawsuit last week claiming Hernandez shot him in the face after they argued at a strip club. The man, who lost his right eye, told police after the February incident that he did not know who shot him.
The Boston Globe reported that Hernandez lost his temper and threatened teammate Wes Welker during an argument in the team’s weight room shortly after being drafted.
Hernandez became a father to a daughter on Nov. 6, and he said it made him think.
“I’m engaged now and I have a baby. So it’s just going to make me think of life a lot differently and doing things the right way,” he said. “Now, another one is looking up to me. I can’t just be young and reckless Aaron no more. I’m going to try to do the right things, become a good father and (have her) be raised like I was raised.”
The loss of Hernandez deprives the Patriots of the second half of one of the league’s best tight end tandems. Fellow Pro Bowl selection Rob Gronkowski has had five operations this offseason on his back and broken left forearm.
Hernandez was chosen for the Pro Bowl in 2011, when he caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. He missed 10 games last season with an ankle injury.
In 38 games over his three NFL seasons, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Hernandez has 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns. Last summer, the Patriots gave Hernandez a five-year contract worth $41 million just months after the team locked up Gronkowski through 2019.
“Aaron’s improved a lot,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said at the time. “He’s worked hard, he’s improved a lot in all phases of the game — the passing game, the running game, protection and his overall versatility. He’s doing a good job for us.”
Despite the size that makes him a capable blocker, Hernandez has the speed and moves of a wide receiver and is elusive after making a catch.
Born in Bristol, Conn., Hernandez played at Bristol High School before attending Florida, where he won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end as a junior in 2009. He was college teammates with two current Patriots — quarterback Tim Tebow and linebacker Brandon Spikes on the team that won the national championship in 2009.
Hernandez had shoulder surgery in April, but was expected to be ready for training camp. The Patriots did not say which shoulder was operated on.