Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez’s suicide – combined with a little-known legal provision – could mean the NFL owes the former New England Patriots tight end millions. Because Hernandez’s appeal was pending at the time of his death, a Massachusetts legal rule known as “abatement” could be invoked, meaning Hernandez would essentially be posthumously pronounced innocent, and therefore owed the remainder of his salary from the NFL.

“The idea is that if an appeal hasn’t happened, there’s a chance the conviction has an error in it,” Rosanna Cavallo, a professor at Suffolk University, told CNN Thursday. “Rather than have someone with that incomplete decision that they’re guilty, the state chooses to say the conviction is abated as if it never happened.”

Read:  Aaron Hernandez' Murder Conviction Could Be Posthumously Vacated

Should his conviction be vacated, the Patriots could be obligated to pay Hernandez’s estate the $3.5 million bonus he lost after being arrested for murder in 2013, attorney William Kennedy told Boston’s CBS affiliate Thursday. Kennedy represents the families of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, the two men whose murders Hernandez was acquitted of just days before his suicide.

RTX12TIE Aaron Hernandez enters the courtroom for a hearing in Attleboro, Massachusetts, Aug. 22, 2013. Photo: Reuters

In addition to the bonus, the Patriots could owe Hernandez’s estate $25 million in base salary that wasn’t given to him following the arrest, lawyer Michael Coyne told CSNNE.com. A spokesperson for the team told the New York Post said it was against policy to discuss the financial aspects of player contracts.

Despite signing a $40 million contract with the Patriots in 2010, Hernandez had little to his name when he died. The former player received less than a quarter of the money due to his inactive status and subsequent arrest. The murder trials racked up additional bills of an unknown amount.

Read: Aaron Hernandez's Net Worth At Time Of Death

“There’s nothing left here as a practical matter,” Hernandez’s attorney, John Fitzpatrick, said during a civil trial in 2015. “There’s just nothing left here.”

Hernandez left behind his fiancée Shayanna Jenkins, as well as their 4-year-old daughter Avielle, when he apparently committed suicide in his prison cell early Wednesday morning. Hernandez was found hanged by a bed sheet at the Souza-Baranowski Correction Center in Massachusetts where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

RTR2TP64 Aaron Hernandez (R) dives into the end zone for a touchdown against the New York Giants during a game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Nov. 6, 2011. Photo: Reuters