Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had behavioral issues New England knew about long before the team ever drafted the future murderer.
In an interview with MMQB.com, former NFL general manager Floyd Reese, who was a senior advisor for the Patriots from 2009 to 2012, said former Florida coach Urban Meyer helped convince Patriots Coach Bill Belichick to draft Hernandez in 2010.
"We knew he had some issues prior," Reese said. "Urban Meyer and Bill [Belichick] were very, very close, and I think Urban convinced Bill that, you know, that these things weren’t going to be an issue."
To combat potential problems with Hernandez's conduct, the Patriots structured his contract so that he could forfeit up to 75% of his pay if he got into trouble, which kept him in line for the duration of his original contract, according to Reese. When he signed a $40-million contract with New England in 2012, things changed.
"When he was at Florida, he had some issues there too, there were some things that went on. We all knew about it," Reese said. "It was just from our standpoint, we were getting a first-round talent in the fourth round under a contract that was going to keep him in line or it wasn’t going to cost us a penny. The real downside for us was the fourth-round pick. The upside was he ending up being an All-Pro, for a while, until he got his second contract."
In three seasons with the Patriots, Hernandez caught 210 passes for 2,316 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season and playoffs. But Foxborough's proximity to his hometown of Bristol, Conn., just outside of Hartford got him to trouble.
"Aaron grew up in a tough environment, but he went to the University of Florida to get away from Hartford," Reese said. "To get away from that environment. He knew it would be better for him .... The truth is, the vast majority of guys that have maybe had a tough upbringing, when you throw them into a great locker room, great organization, great place to play, they come out of it. They see the other side of it. 'Why would I ever want to go back to that other place?’ The problem is you run into an Aaron Hernandez, who can’t get there. He’s comfortable back in Hartford ... with all that trouble."
On Wednesday, Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of semipro football player Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hernandez has also been indicted on murder charges related to the slayings of two other men in Boston in 2012.
Follow Matt Wilhalme on Twitter @mattwilhalme