Aaron Hernandez has turned into a special player just two years into his tenure in New England.
The future looks to be extremely bright for the dynamic tight end duo of Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, with them being just just 22 and 23 years of age respectively, but only if the Patriots shell out the money to keep them together.
With Gronkowski already receiving a six-year, $54 million extension to his rookie contract, the eyes of Bill Belichick and the front office should fall onto their other third-year tight end.
Just one day ago the Patriots made a splash in the NFL world when they failed to come to an agreement on a new deal with franchise-tagged All-Pro wide receiver Wes Welker before the July 16 deadline. With negotiations with Welker unable to continue until after the conclusion of the 2012 season, the Patriots should do the the smart thing and divert all attention to wrapping up a deal with Hernandez.
Hernandez may be a tight end by trade, but he functions as a slot receiver in the Patriots air attack. Considering both Welker and fourth-year receiver Julian Edelman are due to be unrestricted free agents next March, Hernandez could be an even bigger cog in New England's offense in future seasons.
Hernandez quite possibly could explode if given the opportunity to be the team's primary slot receiver similarly to how Dallas Clark performed in a similar role with the Indianapolis Colts for the better part of a decade. Clark had 100 receptions during the 2009 season, and it is not a stretch to believe Hernandez could produce at that rate if given the opportunity.
Hernandez finished his 2011 campaign with 79 catches for 910 yards and seven scores while still having to share the field with a slot receiver in Wes Welker who led the NFL in receptions with a staggering 122.
Take Welker out of the equation, but keep Hernandez on the field with Brandon Lloyd and possibly a new wideout that could be dynamic on the other side, and you could see Hernandez become a player nobody saw when he was a fourth-round pick in 2010.
The only slightly scary thing about Hernandez is that he always seems to be fighting nagging injuries. He has only missed two games in each of his first two seasons, but he has been listed on the injury report for large stretches in both the 2010 and 2011.