As the saga over the Aaron Hernandez murder charges continue, many have looked back at a letter he wrote -- some have suggested it was on the advice of his agent -- before being drafted. In the letter, Hernandez acknowledged mistakes he'd made in the past with recreational drugs and promised to somehow pay back the organization if he fails any tests.
While in retrospect the letter may seem incredibly telling and disingenuous, agents and a former NFL team executive say that it is a relatively common practice among potential draftees facing a bit of mud on their profiles.
How helpful letters like that are, however, varies.
"My feelings on it generally were it was an attempt by an agent to get the player to come clean especially when the question may have been circling in the war rooms," said Ted Sundquist, former general manager of the Denver Broncos. "And that (letter) was the only way the agent felt like he could reach the decision makers."
Perhaps the most successful case was Luis Castillo, the Northwestern defensive end who tested positive for steroids shortly before the 2005 draft. At the suggestion of his agent, Mike McCartney, Castillo wrote a letter that, according to ESPN The Magazine, with his explanations for taking the banned substance (he panicked over an elbow injury) and information about his sparkling academic record.
His follow-up interviews and multiple character testimonies, as well as supporting evidence of his claims that he had only used steroids once also were probably helpful. The Chargers then selected Castillo in the first round.
"The agent can pick the phone up and nine times out of ten, we're on the line going, 'Yeah, OK,'" Sundquist said. "So it's sometimes, I think, a tactic, but it's like, hey, your best chance of clearing this up, whether it's drugs or anger management or anything that plagues prospects coming in, is just to put it in your own words."
Though murder charges are certainly more serious and unpredictable than drug use, many have questioned if the fact Hernandez had to write a letter at all should have been a bigger detriment to his draft status.
One difference with Hernandez's letter was that it went a bit further than many of the normal I-promise-to-stay-out-of-trouble letters, said one agent who declined to be identified.
"He is basically putting his earnings in jeopardy by giving away what may be guaranteed to him," he said. "It is one thing to make such a promise after he has been drafted, but I cannot imagine this practice happens often prior to the draft."
As for how much it actually helped him, Sundquist said based on how far down he went to the Patriots in the fourth round meant it might have just been a risk they were willing to take -- regardless of a heartfelt first-class delivery.
"When you get to the back end of the draft and a player like Hernandez is there and you know you're getting a first- or second-round talent,” he said, "(clubs) will at least talk about it."
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