Teams weighing Aaron Hernandez’s stock before the NFL Draft in 2010 had reason to wonder if the talented tight end someday would become a huge off-the-field headache. But the New England Patriots drafted him anyway.
And the message Thursday from around the NFL was simple:
They were warned.
A general manager from one NFL team told USA TODAY Sports that his team did not remove Hernandez from its draft board, even though “there was a general concern about him.”
But the worries about Hernandez’s character and associates convinced at least one NFL team to remove him from its draft board of eligible players, and another team red-flagged him while still considering him draftable as he came out of the University of Florida, the general managers of those teams told USA TODAY Sports.
Team executives who spoke to USA TODAY Sports did not want to be identified, given the sensitivity of the ongoing homicide case in North Attleboro, Mass., that links the Patriots standout as a potential suspect.
One of those general managers said his scouts “got negative reports” on Hernandez.
Still, the Patriots selected Hernandez with a fourth-round pick, despite widespread reports that he had flunked multiple drug tests for marijuana while at Florida and had admitted to teams at the NFL combine that year that he used drugs in college.
The GM who received the negative reports said information from a background check indicated that Hernandez — who never has been suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy during his tenure with the Patriots — attempted to mask drug use.
Hernandez’s agent could not be reached for comment.
Hernandez, who was questioned by police and had his home searched by investigators this week, has not been charged in the slaying of Odin Lloyd, 27. Nor has he been charged by authorities in Florida, where Alexander Bradley has alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that he was shot in the face by Hernandez after an argument in February. Bradley is suing for damages in excess of $100,000.
Police in Palm Beach County, Fla., who closed the criminal case when Bradley was uncooperative, said they will not investigate if Hernandez was involved in the shooting unless Bradley contacts them, a police spokeswoman told USA TODAY Sports.
Hernandez’s possible connections to these cases have resonated in the NFL, where teams also were concerned with his possible ties to gang activities.
“One thing that has come up in my mind is that this probably wasn’t a great spot for him to come to, in terms of the Patriots. To be that close to those people is concerning,” said Ross Tucker, a former NFL players who is now an analyst for Sports USA Network.
Tucker added: “I had a scout text me from an NFL team who said, ‘You know, it doesn’t always happen right away, but it seems like the red flags pretty much always come back at some point.’ He said, ‘Nine times out of 10.’”
The Patriots have not publicly commented on the matter. Generally, the franchise – with a deep commitment to community service – has little patience with players involved in off-the-field drama. Team owner Robert Kraft has stressed that his players represent his family and the franchise.
A former NFL head coach, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, wondered why the Patriots didn’t see red flags with Hernandez’s recent behavior.
If the gun shot allegations are true, “why wasn’t that known until now?” he asked. “That’s leading up to some of the things we’re talking about with Aaron Hernandez now. Maybe some of this could have been headed off – if, in fact, it’s true.”
A former NFL team scouting director said players often get caught in situations because of machismo. But the solution is simple.
“You walk away,” he said. “So they think you’re a big (wimp) for walking away. Who cares?”
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