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Aaron Hernandez, Patriots agree to long-term deal

The New England Patriots and Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez have agreed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract extension that will keep the 22-year old in New England through 2018, two sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to NFL.com and NFL Network reporter Albert Breer.

One source told Breer the contract has an annual average value of $7.5 million and includes the $2.263 million ($1.15 million in base salary) remaining on his rookie contract. The deal is expected to be completed on Monday.

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A fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Florida in 2010, Hernandez has started 19 of 28 games over his first two seasons and has 124 receptions for 1,473 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight rushing attempts for 92 yards.

The club considered it important to pursue deals with both Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason. By assuming some risk early, the team was able to lock up both long-term, something that would've been difficult if the club had waited until their rookie deals expired after 2013.

One source told Breer that this does not preclude the Patriots from finishing a new deal with franchise-tagged receiver Wes Welker.

The team and Welker, however, were not close to an agreement when the deadline for signing franchise-tagged players came and went in mid-July, and now must until after the season to resume negotiations.

Hernandez and fellow 2010 draft pick Gronkowski have combined to form one the most productive tight end duos in NFL history, though the versatile Hernandez frequently lines up at wide receiver and even running back.

The multiple ways New England deploys Hernandez, combined with the fact that receivers are paid more handsomely than tight ends, reportedly might have resulted in his agent, David Dunn, pushing for Hernandez to be qualified as a wide receiver, not a tight end if the Patriots designated him as their franchise player in 2014.

The new extension makes that issue moot.

Gronkowski, also a Pro Bowl pick in 2011, signed a six-year, $54 million contract extension in June.

UPDATE: Hernandez donated $50,000 to the Patriots Charitable Foundation in honor of Myra Kraft, to thank Robert Kraft for his faith in drafting and extending him.

Follow Brian McIntyre on Twitter @brian_mcintyre.

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