Genuine emotion in the halls of One Patriot Place?
Another contract negotiation that benefited both the team and the player, and didn’t involve both sides ramming their heads into a wall repeatedly and disrespecting said player?
Who are these people running Gillette Stadium and what have you done with the Patriots?
Long chided nationally — and in some pockets locally — the Patriots appear to have evolved from their iron-fisted ways of dealing with players and contracts.
The Patriots were the organization that rarely smiled, didn’t reveal much (still don’t), and didn’t show much emotion off the playing field.
They pursued excellence with a ruthlessness that served them very well with unparalleled success in an era designed to promote parity.
But after tight end Aaron Hernandez walked into the office of owner Robert Kraft after signing a $37.5 million contract extension Monday (his contract runs through 2018, and is effectively a seven-year deal at $41.115 million) and tearfully presented a $50,000 check for the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund, the organization doesn’t look like it will be the same.
“One of the touching moments since I’ve owned the team,” Kraft said.
One that came straight from Hernandez’s heart.
“He changed my life,” Hernandez said of Kraft. “Now, I’m able to basically have a good chance to be set for life and have a good life and I have a daughter on the way [Nov. 12], and I have a family that I love.
“It’s just knowing that they’re going to be OK, because I was happy playing for $250,000, $400,000. But knowing that my kids and my family will be able to have a good life, go to college, it’s just an honor that he did that for me. He gave me this opportunity. So the $50,000 to help his foundation, obviously it’s basically saying thank you.”
Wouldn’t be surprised if coach Bill Belichick, the placid face and monotone voice of The Franchise, had his own special moment with Hernandez.
How could you not?
Hernandez, behind the tattooed and pierced exterior, is a kind, mild-mannered person with a heart of gold, despite some rough times growing up in Bristol, Conn.
The man his closest friends and family call, “Chico” drifted some as a teenager and might have flown completely off the map after his father, Dennis, died unexpectedly from complications after hernia surgery when Hernandez was 16. Dennis was Aaron’s world, and it sent him spinning like a top. But older brother, D.J., who is now an offensive graduate assistant at the University of Miami, kept his little brother on a track to take advantage of his tremendous athletic gifts.
Hernandez still had maturity issues from time to time, and failed drug tests at the University of Florida are the reason he lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 draft, when the Patriots took him with the 113th selection.
Those mistakes cost him a lot of money. His signing bonus was $200,000, and nearly half his salaries each season were made up of roster and workout bonuses in order to provide a carrot for Hernandez to be all that he could be.
He has, and now stands at the precipice of becoming the favorite and most dangerous target for quarterback Tom Brady on a Super Bowl quest.
That’s why the Patriots felt Hernandez had matured enough where he could handle a new contract that includes a $12.5 million signing bonus, with $16 million guaranteed.
It’s the second-richest extension for a tight end in league history, and the signing bonus is the highest ever at the position.
“Bill and all them can negotiate with me, but [Kraft’s] the one that has the final decision and him saying, ‘I want you around here for the next seven years’ is saying he really wants me to be a part of his family,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t need to give me the amount he gave me and knowing he thinks I deserve that and he trusts me to make the right decisions, it means a lot. It means he trusts in my character and the person I am, which means a lot. My mother [Terri], that’s how she raised me.”
Hernandez’s deal averages more the first four years than that of Rob Gronkowski, an All-Pro last season, and has more in true guaranteed money. (It’s $12 million for Gronkowski, and another $5 million if he’s on the roster in 2015.) Gronkowski only sees the final $37 million of his deal if he’s healthy and productive in 2016.
The 22-year-old is here and he’ll get his money.
So the Patriots have their dynamic tight end duo through at least 2015, and possibly 2018, when Hernandez will be a free agent at 29. Gronkowski, if his 2016 option is picked up, is signed through 2019 when he’ll be 31.
Contracts are the other area in which the Patriots are breaking free of their 1980s-like chains.
This is the third contract the Patriots have renegotiated early in the past eight months, following linebacker Jerod Mayo and Gronkowski.
Mayo’s extension didn’t seem to be anything new for the team, since it had already redone his deal in March of 2010. Mayo seemed to be the “Do we have extra cap space? OK, let’s use it on our guy,” that almost every team has.
With Gronkowski, you weren’t quite sure because his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, had done some curious team-friendly extensions while rumors persisted that he was in trouble financially. That has been alleged in subsequent reports from Yahoo! Sports, but Rosenhaus did a good deal that benefited Gronkowski and the team.
But now, after Hernandez’s deal, we can officially say the Patriots have moved into the 21st century as far as salary-cap management. Their propensity to take players to the end of their deals, then engage in verbal combat when it came time for a new one, not only dragged on the players but it kept the Patriots from using all the possible advantages under a salary cap.
It long has been one of the most glaring, perplexing weaknesses of an organization that is so far ahead of everyone else in just about every other area.
It’s simple. You identify core young players who are low risk from busting after getting paid.
Go to them two or three years early, and in exchange for paying them well before the end of their contract, the team saves millions in future salary cap charges.
It’s the definition of win-win. There was no excuse why the Patriots didn’t do it with guard Logan Mankins. And it sure looks like the team learned a lesson from that very contentious negotiation, and has made a wise correction.
Emotion and forward-thinking cap economics?
Whoever that team is masquerading as the Patriots, they have evolved, and they stand to be even better for it.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.