One AFC front-office executive recently speculated that the New England Patriots were the only team willing to gamble a fourth-round pick on Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 NFL Draft. Hernandez was widely regarded as a second-round talent, but many teams took him off their draft boards because of failed drug tests and rumors that he hung out with the wrong crowd.
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Owner/general manager Mike Brown acknowledged to Fox Sports Ohio that his Cincinnati Bengals were one of those teams with no intention of rolling the dice on Hernandez three years ago.
"That one is no secret. We just stayed away from (Hernandez)," Brown said. "We didn't question the playing ability. But we went for (Jermaine) Gresham."
Brown also revealed that Rob Gronkowski -- the other tight end drafted by the Patriots in 2010 -- was taken off the Bengals' board "because he had a bad back" coming out of the University of Arizona. Gronkowski recently had back surgery.
Perhaps even more interesting than those revelations was Brown's guileless discussion of the team's evolution in philosophy regarding players red-flagged for behavioral issues. It's a dilemma to which NFL teams have begun devoting more resources.
The Bengals had been more conscientious about drafting the "right type of person" under Brown's father, Paul Brown, the legendary founder of the franchise. Mike Brown liberalized the policy on ne'er-do-wells once other teams "sort of had us for lunch" with the aid of talented but troubled players. He began taking chances on players with lengthy rap sheets such as Chris Henry, Cedric Benson and Tank Johnson. Over a 17-month span between December 2005 and June 2007, 10 Bengals players accounted for 17 arrests.
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By the time Hernandez entered the draft three years later, Brown had decided to return to the "old formula" of bringing in "sound people." That shift in thinking has coincided with the recent rise of social media. NFL teams are finding more and more that the poisonous publicity risk isn't worth the on-field reward.
Former Colts general manager Bill Polian told the Wall Street Journal that the team passed on Hernandez despite its need for a tight end.
"There were questions there, which is why a guy of that talent lasted until the fourth round," said Polian, who added that the Colts, who took tight end Brody Eldridge in the fifth round, "never got that far" in evaluating Hernandez.
"We were not in the Hernandez business," Polian said.
Update: The Bengals and Colts have company. The Miami Dolphinsremoved Hernandez from their draft board, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The Dolphins were concerned that Hernandez confessed to punching a bar employee and was questioned by police in a Gainesville area double-shooting.