The New England Patriots have been the model franchise for the National Football League. Owner Robert Kraft embodies all the best values we look for in sports -- character, integrity, stability and high standards for off-field behavior. They were the team that released defensive tackle Christian Peter, who they drafted in the fifth round in 1996, two days after picking him when they discovered a disturbing history of prior arrests. How did they ever choose to draft murder suspect Aaron Hernandez who dropped to the fourth round because of character issues at the University of Florida? And why did they waive him after the arrest, not waiting for the trial, and losing valuable rights in regard to him in the process?
NFL teams spend millions of dollars and endless months scouting college players. This is an era of the salary cap and the consequence of having a player who has been paid a large signing bonus and other guaranteed money be disqualified for behavioral reasons is disastrous. The team not only loses the cash it has spent, the signing bonus is amortized for cap purposes over the length of the contract. When a team loses a player for any reason -- all that yearly-amortized cap bonus immediately is pulled into the current year and creates a "dead cap space" problem. Not only does the team not have the player, it does not have the cap room to replace him.
This is why franchises hire security screeners and employ a variety of techniques to weed out potentially self-destructive players. They do psychological tests, extensive interviews, talk to coaches, and do research.
Evidently the warning signs in respect to Hernandez potential for troubling behavior were discovered by many teams in scouting. Hernandez was a First Round talent but teams shied away from him so that he was passed in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. The Patriots have the reputation of the team least tolerant in the NFL of bad behavior.
So what happened? Only the scouts and director of player personnel and coaches know the answer. Part of being a coach is the belief that somehow the right environment and coaching techniques will bring out the best in a player. Hope springs eternal. The Patriots have taken some troubled veterans onto their roster who have flourished in that system, like wide receiver Randy Moss.
By waiving him the day of his arrest, the Patriots are presuming his guilt. If Hernandez is found not guilty later and this all is a unfair mistake, the team is taking the position that even being involved in a questionable situation is grounds for dismissal. All of their top receivers from last year are now gone or injured. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski just underwent surgery and star wide receiver Wes Welker left in free agency. Moreover, the Patriots have lost the right to recover some of the signing bonus for the five-year $40 million contract extension they signed him to.
This is a vivid example of how even the best sports franchise, with the best scouting and evaluative process can make a very costly mistake.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.