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Christopher L. Gasper

Patriots’ risky decisions haunting them now

Patriots coach Bill Belichick talked with Aaron Hernandez, left, at a training camp practice last year.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff/Boston Globe

The Patriots recently changed the font on their logo, switching from loopy cursive script to block lettering. If their players keep running afoul of the law, they’re going to have to rename the new type “cell block” lettering.

The risks are coming home to roost at Patriot Place. Coach Bill Belichick is going to have some explaining to do to his image-conscious bosses, owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft, if his handpicked boys in silver and blue keep having run-ins with the boys in blue.

Three days after Robert Kraft publicly addressed former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez’s first-degree murder charge for the first time, another of the Patriots’ football Faustian bargains, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, was arrested in Lincoln, Neb., on suspicion of driving under the influence.


Dennard, who started seven games and two postseason games as a rookie last season, was arrested just before 2 a.m. Thursday. The arrest came three months to the day that he was sentenced in a Lincoln, Neb., courthouse to 24 months of probation, 30 days of jail (to be served in March of 2014), and 100 hours of law-enforcement-related community service for assaulting a police officer in April of 2012.

If Dennard didn’t violate his probation, he violated the laws of stupidity.

It says something about your team when Aqib Talib is the more responsible and law-abiding of your projected starting corners.

The Patriots must long for the days of such picayune public relations hits as failing to re-sign their leading receiver or having their shirtless tight end testing his surgically repaired wrist on a Las Vegas club stage.

Look, no team in the NFL has 53 saints, not even the bounty-hunting New Orleans Saints. Left to their own devices, there are a lot of coaches who would take lawbreakers if they were gamebreakers on Sunday. If teams only employed Boy Scouts, choir boys, and community activists, there would be a lot of empty slots on NFL rosters and empty seats in stadiums.


But the Patriots have courted character risks in increasing fashion in the name of getting a bargain — drafting sliding players such as Dennard, Hernandez, Ryan Mallett, and Brandon Tate and acquiring questionable ones such as Talib, Albert Haynesworth, and Chad Ochocinco.

Now, they’re getting more than they bargained for. The decisions to bring in red-flag players are coming back and sinking incisors into the team’s carefully crafted image.

Such gridiron gambles are symptomatic of a coach trying to compensate for previous personnel miscalcuations. They are quick fixes, short cuts, Patriot patch jobs.

Like anything that must be constructed with care, including a championship football team, if you take too many short cuts eventually the quality of what you’re building starts to reflect that reality. Belichick is such an exalted master of X’s and O’s that the loss of quality control isn’t apparent on the field, but it’s emerging off it.

Like Hernandez, who dropped to the fourth round because of questions about his attitude and rectitude, Dennard sank to the seventh and final round of the 2012 draft because he punched a police officer on April 21, 2012.

Slugging a cop five days before the NFL draft is not failing to exercise self-restraint. It’s a warning that you don’t have any.

Do the Patriots roll the dice on Dennard if previous high draft picks at cornerback such as Terrence Wheatley and Darius Butler had panned out? Or if they hadn’t allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2010 and 2011 combined (8,839) and the most completions of 25 yards or more (73)?


Maybe. But desperation often equates to justification. The Patriots are desperate to win a fourth Super Bowl with quarterback Tom Brady’s football biological clock ticking. The only missing piece has been better pass defense.

You can make the same case about most of the character risks that come to Belichick’s helmeted reform school.

There might not have been a willingness to take a chance on Haynesworth, who had a pending sexual assault charge when the Patriots traded for him in 2011, if Ron Brace had developed into a starter at defensive tackle.

Ochocinco/Johnson/Surname of the Moment, one of Belichick’s biggest personnel blunders, wouldn’t have been imported from Cincinnati in 2011 had drafted wide receivers Chad Jackson, Tate, or Taylor Price worked out.

Neither Haynesworth nor Ochocinco embarrassed the club off the field during their time with the Patriots, but neither helped the team on it.

It usually doesn’t end well with character-question guys even when it goes well on the field.

Corey Dillon and Randy Moss proved to be brilliant gambles, but ultimately their true character was revealed when their personal agendas collided with the team’s agenda.

Dillon helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl and rushed for a franchise-record 1,635 yards during the 2004 season. But feeling phased out after a 2006 game against Minnesota in which the Patriots went with a pass-heavy game plan, he launched into a diatribe on the plane ride home. He didn’t return in 2007.


Moss set an NFL season record for touchdown receptions with 23 in 2007. But already displeased about not having a new long-term contract in 2010, he threw a temper tantrum at halftime of the Patriots’ 41-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins, a game in which he had no targets and no catches. He was traded two days later.

There is inherent risk in any business, and those who are completely risk-averse usually fail to rise to the top of their industry. The bromide about no risk, no reward is true.

But Belichick has pushed the boundaries in pursuit of victory, and now they’re pushing back in ignominious fashion.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.