New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former tight end Aaron Hernandez had a tight bond during the player's three seasons with the team.
Hernandez would often greet the owner with a kiss on the cheek and donated $50,000 to a charity created in honor of Kraft's late wife. Kraft said that the former Florida standout volunteered to take biweekly drug tests if the Patriots took a chance on him and that Hernandez informed him on draft night that the first jersey he ever owned was that of former New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
“He was a New England kid who was a Patriot," Kraft said of the Bristol, Conn., native. "I thought it was cool.”
So it's no wonder that Kraft says that he and the rest of the organization were fooled if the murder charge against Hernandez is true.
“If this stuff is true, then I've been duped and our whole organization has been duped,” Kraft said in a session with reporters from Boston news organizations. “When he was in our building, we never saw anything where he was not polite. He was always respectful to me. We only know what's going on inside the building. We don't put private eyes on people.”
Two days after returning from a trip to Europe and Israel, Kraft was making his first comments on the Hernandez case -- despite being advised by his attorneys not to because it's unclear whether the Lloyd family plans on suing the team.
But Kraft said it “is important that our fan base hear directly from our organization.”
[Updated at 10:57 a.m.: In his 2010 letter to Patriots director of player personel Nick Caserio, Hernandez addressed the allegations of his marijuana use at Florida and proposed a way to handle the issue:
"Any information I volunteer to you about my past will be looked at with great skepticism as I am trying to get drafted as high as possible by a NFL team. As such, I thought that the best way to answer your questions and your concerns was to make a very simple proposition. If you draft me as a member of the New England Patriots, I will willfully submit to a bi-weekly drug test throughout my rookie season (8 drug tests during the 2010 regular season). In addition, I will tie any guaranteed portion of my 2010 compensation to these drug tests and reimburse the team a pro-rata amount for any failed drug test. ...
"In closing, I ask you to trust me when I say you have absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to me and the use of recreational drugs. I have set very high goals for myself in the NFL, and am focused 100% on achieving those goals. So, test me all you want during my rookie year…all of the results will be negative while I am having an overwhelmingly positive impact on the field."]
Despite his fondness for the player, Kraft said he had no hesitation in releasing Hernandez as soon as he was arrested in connection with the death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, even though it means salary cap hits of $2.5 million this year and $7.5 million the following season.
“If any member of the New England Patriots organization is close enough to a murder investigation to actually get arrested — whether it be for obstruction of justice or the crime itself," Kraft said, "it is too close to an unthinkable act for that person to be part of this organization going forward.”
He added: “It was principle -- over money or cap or anything else."