For years, the New England Patriots have been known as a model NFL franchise. New England, more than any team over the past dozen years, has been a football factory that found a way to stay focused in a league full of distractions.
But has New England lost sight of "The Patriot Way?" This has been an uncharacteristically wild offseason for New England that includes losing Wes Welker in free agency, multiple surgeries for Rob Gronkowski, the circus-like signing of Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez being released after a charge of murder and five additional gun charges.
According to ESPN.com NFL columnist Ashley Fox, these are no longer the usual Patriots. New England's reputation has been tarnished, Fox says, following the Hernandez incident.
The New England Patriots seem to be trying to do the right thing. Now. Now that they know Aaron Hernandez has been accused of executing an associate. Now that their star tight end is behind bars facing murder and weapons charges, denied bail and awaiting a trial that likely won't start until next year. Hernandez is worthless to the Patriots now, and the organization is going to great lengths to disassociate itself from him. Less than two hours after his arrest last week, New England cut Hernandez and removed his jersey from their pro shop at Gillette Stadium. This weekend, they will allow fans to exchange any Hernandez jersey that was bought at the stadium for another of equal value at no charge. Out with Hernandez, and in with Tim Tebow. But it isn't that simple and can't be that neat. New England has acted wisely and admirably in the immediate aftermath of this heinous story, but it can't be forgotten that New England was the organization that employed Hernandez. The Patriots chose Hernandez. Not once. Twice.
Do you agree or disagree with Fox's assessment? You can read Fox's full column on the Patriots' reputation here.