The New England Patriots didn’t waste any time in addressing the Aaron Hernandez arrest. About an hour after the tight end was taken into police custody, the team announced on Twitter that Hernandez had been released.
The reason for Hernandez's arrested has not been disclosed. It is suspected that he is being charged with obstruction of justice in the murder of Odin Lloyd. The NFL star reportedly destroyed his cell phone and home security system.
Entering last season, the Patriots had arguably the best pair of tight ends in the league. In 2011, Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined to receive 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns. In 2012, they combined for 16 touchdowns, as Gronkowski played in 11 games and had 55 receptions, while Hernandez played in 10 games, and had 51 receptions. As the 2013 season approaches, however, the Patriots face a number of questions at the position.
A healthy Gronkowski would still be among the best tight ends in the NFL. After undergoing five surgeries in the past year, though, it’s unknown how effective he will be in 2013. USA Today recently reported that doctors are optimistic the starter will be ready by Week One, but four procedures on his forearm and another on his back make his future very uncertain.
With Hernandez out, the Patriots have little depth behind Gronkowski. Reserve tight ends Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Brandon Ford and Daniel Fells, combined for just 194 receiving yards in 2012. Jake Ballard spent all of last season on the Patriots’ injured reserve list, and it is unclear how he will recover from an ACL tear.
The Patriots signed Tim Tebow to play quarterback, but the release of Hernandez could force them to reconsider him at the position. Two weeks ago, Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reported that Tebow would “study” tight end.
Tebow has been a quarterback his entire career, but he would have little impact with the Patriots as a signal caller. Tom Brady is the team’s starter and has proven extremely durable. Ryan Mallet is entering his third season with New England and his presence pushes Tebow back to third-string.
In three years as a pro, Tebow has never caught a pass. He does, however, seem to possess the tools to be a tight end. He has the size and athleticism necessary to play the position and was used by the New York Jets to block punts.
It isn’t likely that Tebow would become a major contributor at tight end, but head coach Bill Belichick has shown a knack for getting players to succeed at different positions. Even if Tebow can make a handful of plays throughout the season, he’d be helping more than he ever could at quarterback.