aaron-hernandez-brandt-story

When the Phone Rings at 4 a.m.

It’s the call every team executive dreads. What happens, and where the Patriots go from here

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·

First things first: I’m excited to be a part of The MMQB, and with a background as both a player agent and team executive, I’m looking forward to pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of football—not just on the field, but in the front offices and board rooms where critical decisions are made.

And there is no more topical place to start than with the most explosive story of the offseason: the murder allegations against Aaron Hernandez.

As vice president of the Packers for nine years, I received “the call”—that unpleasant ring, often in the middle of the night, to inform me of a player’s misbehavior—many times. Most of those crises now seem benign in comparison to the news the Patriots’ staff got on Hernandez. When the call comes in, a team executive does three things: 1) curse loudly, 2) talk to the agent and if necessary or possible the player and 3) convene staffers to set an action plan in motion.

I remember getting a call about another tight end, albeit under circumstances dramatically different from Hernandez’s. At around 4 a.m. on April 9, 2000, our general manager, Ron Wolf, rang me and, as his custom, got right to the point: “Andrew, meet [security director Jerry] Parins and get to Milwaukee to see what the hell’s going on.”

“Going on with what?”

“Chmura.”

“What about Chmura?”

“A young girl. Get going.”

As a player, Mark Chmura had been a true find by Wolf, a sixth-round pick out of Boston College in 1992 who made three Pro Bowls. He was one of the most popular personalities on the team, part of “The Three Amigos”—with Brett Favre and Frank Winters—who were known for their fun-loving ways. No longer. Chmura was being charged with the sexual assault of his family’s 17-year-old former babysitter, stemming from events at a post-prom party at a neighbor’s house. The Packers’ fan base is vast and passionate, with a boundless appetite for team news even in the offseason. Chmura was the story in Wisconsin for months.

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Jerry and I met Mark at the courthouse, where he was released on bail. Back at his home, we huddled with his local advisor and marketing agent, John Drana, whom I knew and liked. At times such as these, relationships with agents and advisors are valuable currency; well-managed teams foster those relationships.

Our conversations were cordial but guarded; neither side wanted to say much as things were too raw. I made sure Mark was retaining counsel (Gerald Boyle, for whom he later worked as a legal assistant) and was emotionally stable. He appreciated that we were there there but did not want to talk. I could tell he had been crying.

There’s no textbook for these situations, but Ron’s instinct and judgment—always spot on—was to have us there at this fragile time both to show concern for Mark and his family and to make clear our disappointment with the circumstances he had put himself in, no matter his eventual guilt or innocence.

Back at the office, beyond the obligatory “We are aware of the circumstances” public statement, we were not going to make a knee-jerk decision on Mark either way. Nevertheless, while his trial would not be heard for some time, the disappointment and embarrassment surrounding his actions, combined with a potentially career-ending neck injury that he suffered during the 1999 season, made it problematic to have him continue with the team.

It altered our draft plans as well: A week after the call, we took tight end Bubba Franks in the first round. Six weeks later Mark was released from the Packers after eight seasons. In February 2001, following a lengthy trial, he was acquitted of all charges. Despite the uncomfortable separation, Mark stayed in the area and maintained relations with the club, and in 2010 he was inducted into the Packers’ Hall of Fame.

That was then; this is now.

The Patriots’ Way

Five Things I Think

1. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the conversations between then-Florida coach Urban Meyer and Bill Belichick about Hernandez before the 2010 draft. I presume Meyer told him something along the lines of, “Bill, if you get him up there in your system with your people he should be fine.”


2. I have no problem drafting a character risk in the fourth round, where the consequences of moving on are negligible. I remain confounded, though, by the $40 million extension the Patriots gave Hernandez halfway through his rookie deal. The team had to know something about his behavior that would cause concern.


3. A hidden but important player in the midst of this debacle is Hernandez’s agent, David Dunn, who has wisely stayed in the background. Dunn is certainly having an eventful offseason with the Patriots: He also represents Wes Welker, the popular and record-setting receiver who left for Denver as a free agent after a less-than-friendly negotiation, and second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, a player already on probation for assaulting a police officer last April who was arrested on suspicion of DUI earlier this month in Nebraska.


4. While the number of NFL arrests is below a representative sample of the national average, that is no comfort to Roger Goodell. The commissioner holds fast to the old-fashioned principle that NFL players are role models—I have seen his conviction first-hand—and doles out discipline accordingly. I would expect some type of “Personal Conduct Summit” coming from the league soon.


5. Hernandez’s associates illustrate what I call the “Whisper Crew”—friends from back home, associates and hangers-on who are always around the player. The Whisper Crew can often be more of a problem than the player himself. In my time as both an agent and a team executive I found myself dealing with the entourage more than you could imagine, and more than I could ever want.


— A.B.

Unlike Chmura, Aaron Hernandez is never going into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame, and the team was not going to wait before releasing him. Well before Hernandez was being led off in handcuffs, team officials surely had decided—from the police report and from information they must have learned before the public did—that there was no way on earth he would ever play for the Patriots again.

In a situation like this, one of the first calls a team makes is to the NFL’s contract and legal arm, the Management Council, to determine the ramifications of releasing a player and the potential challenges from the NFLPA. New England had extended Hernandez’s contract in the summer of 2012 and given him a $12.5 million signing bonus. The Management Council likely informed the Patriots that recovering the bonus money would be far easier if Hernandez were on the roster and unable to report to camp because he was in jail. But financial concerns were trivial compared to their overwhelming desire to purge him from the team.

Hernandez was not a fringe player with whom the Patriots could sever ties without consequences on the field. Nor was he an import whose previous behavior was beyond their purview. He was a core player whose contract was extended halfway through a minimal rookie deal—the type of move a team makes for a franchise cornerstone. And the constant drip of disturbing reports about Hernandez’s present associates and past lifestyle has to make Patriots owner Robert Kraft cringe.

My sense is that Kraft and his son Jonathan have likely convened all parts of the football operation to determine why there was no knowledge—if in fact there was none—of this unsavory behavior that lurked within miles of their facility, and how to prevent it from happening again. They are also likely in conversation with the Management Council about lingering issues regarding the criminal case ahead, including inquiries into encounters with Hernandez and his associates by players, coaches, security or other members of the Patriots organization.

If we are to believe that the Patriots were duped by Hernandez, as Kraft has said, I sense the owner now finds it unconscionable that his team security staff (such personnel are typically former local law enforcement officers) were not tuned into Hernandez’s lifestyle and associates. Now is probably not a good time to be a member of the Patriots’ security staff.

Moving forward, the Patriots will follow the lead of coach Bill Belichick and simply not engage in discussion regarding Hernandez. Players will “fall in” as well. As for Kraft, he is being advised by counsel (there will be lawyers) to say nothing more after his “we were duped” comments. He has and will continue to scrub any connection to Hernandez, as if he never played for the team. The jersey swap—the Pats allowed fans to freely exchange their No. 81 jerseys for those of current players—was only the most obvious move.

Thus, as the team gathers for camp just miles from Hernandez’s jail cell, Kraft will maintain that Hernandez conned the entire organization; Belichick will refuse to engage; and coaches and players will change the subject as quickly as possible. The Hernandez story will linger, and players will talk about it privately, but fortunately for the Patriots the inexorable march to the next meeting, practice, film session or game begins now.

More from The MMQB
32 comments
RobertSmith
RobertSmith

Comparing arrest rates for a group of college educated millionaires to the overall national average is misleading.  The arrest rate for NFL players is much greater than one would expect to find for those who share relevant demographic characteristics.

Chas3
Chas3

Great start to this new endeavor!

jojo37
jojo37 like.author.displayName 1 Like

This is really a very good article! Great insight, as MTRL52 has already said. This is different to SI already. If you guys can keep this level of writing, this site means big trouble to a lot other football internet sites and their advertising plans.  

MTRL52
MTRL52 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great article. Great insight. Keep it coming. It was gutsy to name the player/situation involved in Green Bay. 

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@MTRL52 No it wasn't, it was all over the media.  It would have been easy to deduce who he was talking about.

GregoryBrose
GregoryBrose

@randomdeletion @MTRL52 Good call, Chewy was whining back in 2006 how Brett had abandoned him. Good Lord, Mark...what were you thinking? Folks are still in the joint for the kind of nonsense you dodged. Consider yourself lucky.

Marima
Marima like.author.displayName 1 Like

Andrew, how did the Patriots "have to know" about Hernandez?  Did Wolf know Chmura was predisposed to 17-year old girls?  Did his agent?  It appears Hernandez had the stone-cold ability to separate both sides of his life, where the only real clue is the fact that he didn't hang with anyone on the team.

Also, I'd appreciate your answer to the question of how much an organization's security team can do without running afoul of player's rights and the NFLPA.  It has been said that the Patriots' security team should have known the kind of people Hernandez was associating with, and what he did when he wasn't at the facility.  But should they?  Do they have a right to follow him and investigate his family, friends and others they see him talk with? 

Starstruck
Starstruck

@Marima I am still confused as to whether Hernandez was a person of interest in the 2012 double homicide that now concerns a grand jury with his involvement. There is also the shooting incident in FL where the victim lost an eye. ( The victim didn't press charges against Hernandez at that time, but were not the police aware that Aaron was the person in the car with the victim when the shooting took place?) It is kind of surprising that the Patriots security was totally unaware of these incidents given that he was known to have issues when he was drafted. Like I said, I am confused as to what Patriots security did know/should have known about Hernandez's recent involvement with shootings.

utefan65
utefan65

@Marima Your argument, comparing this to Chmura, doesn't hold water.  I am sure Chmura didn't openly hangout with 17 year olds where his team would see this.  I have to imagine that Hernandez's posse was with him a lot of the time and many people saw who he was associating himself with.  I think you need to look at his agent as well; he had to know as well.  Does this make them bad people; no.  It does speak to how people will turn a blind eye to there star player or cash cow.

Marima
Marima

@utefan65 @Marima Here's the thing:  You are imagining.  Neither of us know the answer.  It has only been reported that Aaron Hernandez did not hang around with his teammates - which supports the idea that neither the players nor the coaches nor the front office knew who he hung around with or what the extent of those relationships were.  

Hernandez' agent lives in California.  He'd know less than anyone what Hernandez was doing in his spare time in the offseason, unless Hernandez told him.

It is just not rational to think that Belichick, Kraft and Dunn all turned a blind eye to harboring a player who they knew murdered someone (maybe two more) - and to say they did it to keep the money rolling in makes even less sense.  Kraft already lost a ton of money paying this guy and having to do public relations damage control by buying back jerseys.

utefan65
utefan65

@Marima Also; if the NFLPA is strong enough to keep owners from knowing what their investments are doing, this would speak to a much greater ill; if a union would protect its workers even if they knew that they were a risk to their organizations.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@Marima Yes they have the right to follow them.  Anyone can hire an investigator to follow anyone in public.  How old are you to not know that?  Really?  

Marima
Marima like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@randomdeletion @Marima It's a legitimate question.  The NFLPA found out about the Cowboys requirement that Dez Bryant be subject to a round-the-clock, three-man security detail and ruled that Bryant had to first agree to it and then pay for it himself.  So it could be an issue if a security team followed a player around to keep him out of trouble.


Also, it would be a public relations nightmare if it were discovered that a team (especially the Patriots) was spying on their players in their free time away from the stadium - especially if the players spied on weren't doing anything illegal.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@Marima @randomdeletion I didn't say it would or would not be a pr nightmare, I said they have every right to do it.  Additionally if they did it, there is absolutely no reason it would ever be known by anyone.  Paying a private investigator to follow a player around is gathering information so you can make a smarter decision with your money and franchise, no reason you would ever have to reveal this to anyone. 

qwerty2002
qwerty2002 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Good insider info. But have to think that at sometime in the past few weeks, Bob Kraft has summoned Bill Belichick into a private meeting, and layed down the law about current and future Patriots. BB may be a genius, may be the greatest coach in the NFL, but he is still Bob Kraft's employee.


DanButler
DanButler

@qwerty2002 "BB may be a genius, may be the greatest coach in the NFL, but he is still"... a JERK.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

I thought giving him a contract extension two years before he would have been a restricted free agent was about the dumbest move I had seen any team make in a long time.  Same with Gronk.  There was no reason to do it and it was foolish considering they really didn't know what they were getting only two years into their career.  It just so happened to be the same off season that Wes Welker was deserving to get paid for all he had done for the organization and they snubbed him and paid the two unknown young guys in a fashion they NEVER paid Wes.  That was bad bad bad pr with the other players on the team and it blew up in their face.  I doubt they ever do that again. 

Marima
Marima like.author.displayName 1 Like

@randomdeletion The reason for Hernandez and Gronkowski's extensions is the same reason you are upset Welker didn't get paid.  Instead of waiting until both TEs were at the end of their contracts, and anticipating there would be such a huge market for them that the Patriots wouldn't be able to retain them both, the team was proactive in extending their contracts.  You wish they had done that for Welker (and they tried, but his agent set the bar too high to even start talking).  Too bad for Welker, but I was glad to see them take an active role in keeping Hernandez and Gronkowski.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@Marima @randomdeletion Interesting, you were glad to see the stupidity in action?  Not paying someone who deserves it and paying two that did not deserve it?  Two that were still largely unknown commodities?  Two that have since proved it to be an enormously stupid move and yet there was me and others that knew it was stupid to begin with?  


They would have been able to afford both, one of them wouldn't even be on the team (as he is in jail) so that would not have been unaffordable and the other can't stay healthy (so does not deserve the top pay in the league).  DUH.  Yeah you think this is all hindsight and yet my point is, there were two years left to see what you really had and they didn't let it play out.  STUPID.  Especially considering BOTH came into the league with real concerns and issues regarding them which is why they dropped in the draft. 

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@JKG @randomdeletion @Marima Really?  You can't say anything to back up your assertion?  Pathetically lame, but what should I expect from a someone whom is likely a pat fan. 

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@Marima @randomdeletion Name calling?  What name calling?  Who did I call any names and what were they?  Since when is calling something stupid name calling?  It was not hindsight for me, I called it stupid the day they announced the new contracts.  Yes with Gronk it still is proving to be stupid.  He won't stay healthy and there is zero reason to expect him too.  He set ONE record.  Not "records".  By the way all my assertions regarding the stupidity is about the Pats and not you.  Why take it personally?

Marima
Marima like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@randomdeletion @Marima A nice, clean new website and you go and mess it up with name-calling instead of having a discussion.

Hindsight is always 20-20.  Of course the Hernandez extension was a mistake.  The Gronkowski one isn't.  Even after starting only 11 games, Gronk scored 2 more TDs than Jimmy Graham last season.  He has already set NFL records.  I don't think it was stupid. 

M38
M38

How handy that Chmura had a neck injury. Kind of made the decision a lot easier, didn't it?

NoThanksESPNFacebook
NoThanksESPNFacebook like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

I haven't been hit up to sub for the magazine or only shown 1 paragraph of a story and told the rest can only be seen if I get an "Insider" service. Can't argue with that!

john15
john15

Good insider info. Just don't try to tell us how great Stabem Lewis is/was.

justin_starbird
justin_starbird like.author.displayName 1 Like

Great Introductory article. Regardless of if the Patriots were duped or not, so much of a players past can be wiped away by playing well. I am certain that one reason they payed for him early is because they knew he would leave when he became a FA and couldn't risk losing another threat after Brady took a home town discount for his last contract. Security usually operates on its own, at the end of the day, they were not the ones that signed the contract. I am looking forward to more from MMQB. 

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