New England Patriots: Does Addition of Ballard Mean the End for Hernandez?

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New England Patriots: Does Addition of Ballard Mean the End for Hernandez?
Al Bello/Getty Images

The New England Patriots signed yet another tight end today in the form of recently-waived Jake Ballard. Could this latest edition to New England's loaded tight end corps mean the end of Aaron Hernandez' time as a Patriot?

I know. It sounds crazy, right? Just hear me out.

Hernandez is currently working under his rookie contract, a contract that pays him $540,000 in 2012 and $575,000 in 2013. In 2014, he is set to become a free agent.

Typically, players do not wait until their contracts have expired to ask for bigger money. If Hernandez produces like he did in 2011, he will be no different. Hernandez caught 79 balls for 910 yards and seven touchdowns last year.

For some teams, those are first-string WR totals. On the Patriots, Aaron is a 3rd option.

Pretty impressive if you ask me.

Why did Bill Belichick and company bring in Jake Ballard, then? The Patriots are already loaded with talent at the receiving end of Tom Brady’s throws.

Wes Welker is still mulling his franchise tender, but he's saying all the right things about being at camp and playing for the Patriots this year.

Brandon Lloyd signed with the Patriots in March. All reports say he is every bit the deep threat that Belichick has been looking for since he let Randy Moss go.

Rob Gronkowski is simply a beast and commands the ball in the red zone and down the seams. His six year, $54 million deal keeps him in the green, and in a Patriots uniform, until 2019.

Aaron Hernandez becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2014. He will command a lot of money on the open market. Right now, though, Hernandez is very affordable considering his production.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Should Aaron Hernandez hold out or demand an exorbitant amount of money, however, Ballard is now waiting in the wings.

Ballard is in the process of recovering from ACL and microfracture surgery. In all likelihood, he won’t see the field in 2012. What that means is the Patriots can place Ballard on the PUP list until November, and if he is ready to return, they can ease him in.

The other option, and in my opinion, the one that will likely be chosen is to place Ballard on the PUP list and, in November, move him to IR.

That move will give the Patriots sole rights to Ballard in 2013. Ballard becomes an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, and the Patriots can keep him with a minimum salary offer.

In 2014, because Ballard went undrafted, he would become a restricted free agent, and the Patriots can hold him for a minimal offer and still have rights of first refusal. That gives them until 2015 to decide if Ballard has become what the Patriots want him to be.

So, are the Patriots willing to pony up that dough to Hernandez?

Keep in mind, Brady will be 37 and in the final few years of his contract. That’s about the time the Patriots will start looking for a new franchise QB. 2014 is also the last year of Brandon Lloyd’s contract.

Vince Wilfork, Stephen Gostkowski, Jonathan Fanene, Shane Vereen, Steven Ridley and Ryan Mallett are a few of the young and big name contributors whose contracts will also expire in 2014.

I believe Ballard, should he get healthy and produce like many think he can, teamed with Rob Gronkowski, will produce an unstoppable duo at tight end in 2013.

Dynasty owners should hold on to him. His is pointing up. Not bad for a gimpy TE on IR, huh?

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