In focus: Closer look at contract extension for Aaron Hernandez
|08.27.12 at 2:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The signing of Aaron Hernandez to a contract extension shows a remarkable commitment to a 22-year-old who has become an integral part of the Patriots offense. It also means the team has locked up both of its dynamic young tight ends at a relatively reasonable price through at least 2018, and guarantees that the New England passing game will remains one of the toughest in the league to defend.
Less than three months after Rob Gronkowski signed an eight-year, $55.23 million contract with $13.1 million guaranteed that will take him through 2019, the Patriots and Hernandez agreed to a five-year, $40 million extension on Monday that will run through 2018. The deal for Hernandez includes $16.5 million guaranteed, and will kick in once his current rookie deal runs out (he has two years remaining on his four-year, $2.785 million rookie contract).
Hernandez wasn’t around to talk to the media on Monday about the extension, but coach Bill Belichick certainly sounded happy that the tight end will be in the fold for the foreseeable future, and all but confirmed the deal.
“Any contract that we agree to is one that we’re in support of,” Belichick said when asked about Hernandez. “If we agree to a contract on a player, then we’re in support of that player, the length of the contract, the amount that we’re paying him, all the other things that go with the contract. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t in support of it.
“We wouldn’t have done it if we weren’t happy with it. I’m glad it worked out.”
While he didn’t match the production of his running mate Gronkowski in 2011 (Gronkowski had 90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 receiving touchdowns, while Hernandez had 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns), you can make a case that Hernandez is more valuable to the New England offense based on his versatility. Hernandez lined up all over the field last season, working as a traditional tight end flush next to the tackle, in the slot, split wide and even in the backfield as a fullback.
Gronkowski and Hernandez are remarkably complementary in their playing style. While Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) is more physical in his approach, the longer, leaner Hernandez (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) is built more like a wide receiver, and presents matchup problems of his own for several reasons, not the least of which is that you rarely know where he’s going to be lined up.
While Hernandez has occasionally struggled with injury over the years, Belichick said he’s “improved a lot” in his two years in the NFL.
“Aaron has improved a lot. He’s worked hard, he’s improved a lot in all phases of the game: passing game, running game, protection and his overall versatility. He’s done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s a hard guy to cover. We’ve had a lot of trouble covering him defensively.”
One guy who will is almost certainly affected by the decision to pay Hernandez is his neighbor in the locker room, Wes Welker. But Welker, who was hit with the franchise this spring after the two teams were unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, said Monday he was happy for his teammate.
“It’s good for him. I’m definitely happy for him,” said Welker, who is repped by the same agency — Athletes First — as Hernandez. “He’s a great player and done a lot of great things for us. Good to have him here.”
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