In a piece now posted on ESPN.com, NFL columnist Ashley Fox isn't letting the Patriots off the hook where Aaron Hernandez is concerned. Even though the Patriots moved quickly to cut the tight end, the Patriots brand has been tarnished, Fox writes. Here is an excerpt:
Given what Hernandez now is accused of in a story that gets more grisly by the day, New England tarnished its brand by choosing Hernandez twice, and it will take more than a jersey exchange to wipe that tarnish away. It will take time. And better choices. And fewer risks.
The team can try to collect and burn every No. 81 jersey it has sold, but it can't erase the fact that Hernandez wore a Patriots jersey for three seasons. Hernandez was part of the Patriot Way that seems to have gone awry.
Team owner Robert Kraft is to blame. So is coach Bill Belichick. They made the choice to gamble on Hernandez, and while they could not have foreseen that one day their star tight end would be charged with murder as well as five gun-related offenses, they knew he had issues, including reported multiple failed drug tests while Hernandez was at Florida.
Kraft is one of the most respected owners in the NFL, yet his organization -- his brand -- is now indelibly tarnished. He did the right thing once Hernandez was arrested, something Dallas owner Jerry Jones hopefully noticed, given Jones' refusal to part ways with Josh Brent. But for Kraft, it was too little, too late.
NFL teams go to great lengths to investigate prospects before either drafting them or signing them. Most employ skilled, veteran security personnel. The NFL is big business. And some teams are more willing than others to employ young men who have sketchy pasts as long as the player has talent and can produce on the field.
Kraft must now make sure that his franchise doesn't select players or gamble in the draft just because they hope the value outweighs the risk. It is going to take time, but the Patriots must be more selective, more cautious.