Before talking football, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the Aaron Hernandez story is nothing short of a tragedy. A man was killed, forever changing the lives of the people who loved and cared about him. It is the most important part of this whole saga, and Odin Lloyd should never be overlooked or forgotten.
The facts surrounding Lloyd’s death have yet to come to light, but the impact on the NFL is clear. Hernandez was arrested early Wednesday morning and was cut by the New England Patriots soon thereafter. The organization clearly decided they wanted to distance themselves from the murder investigation. They cut ties with one of their most popular stars and the millions of dollars they are still obligated to pay him.
The drastic move by the Patriots speaks volumes to the severity of the situation, and the game of football seems insignificant in comparison. Still, New England is one of the NFL’s elite teams, and the release of Hernandez is just the latest chink in the Patriots’ armor.
New England is heading into training camp without their top five receivers from last season. They mishandled Wes Welker and watched him sign on with the Denver Broncos. Rob Gronkowski recently underwent yet another surgery, this one to repair a herniated disk in his back. They released Brandon Lloyd, lost Danny Woodhead, and now they have lost one of their biggest playmakers in Hernandez.
This all comes on the heels of a 2012 season that saw the Patriots lose their home opener, struggled while Bill Belichick tried to freeze Welker out of the line-up, and fell to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. All in all, New England had a very good season, yet there was enough inconsistency to hint towards the decline of an NFL powerhouse.
If indeed the Patriots are on the decline, the Miami Dolphins seem to be eager to take their place among the AFC hierarchy. The Dolphins finished last season second in the AFC East, behind New England, but they did so with a 7-9 record. They also did so with a rookie head coach, a rookie quarterback and one of the worst receiving corps in the league.
Now in the second year of the Joe Philbin/Ryan Tannehill era, the Dolphins have made it clear they want to win, and they want to win now.
Miami spared no expense during free agency, signing offensive threats Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson to help Tannehill in the passing game. They strengthened the defense, getting younger and faster with the addition of linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Danell Ellerbe.
They improved their secondary by replacing Sean Smith with Brent Grimes, and drafting several promising defensive backs at the NFL Draft. They also shocked the football world by trading draft picks with the Oakland Raiders to select Dion Jordan third overall.
Whether the Dolphins’ offseason moves will result in wins on the gridiron or not is yet to be seen, but the fates certainly seem to be smiling down on sunny South Florida. With teams like the Broncos, Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texan among the front runners for AFC playoff spots, the Dolphins may find the easiest path to post season play to be winning their division.
Regardless of the Patriots’ seemingly wounded state, knocking them off will not be an easy task, and the Dolphins’ schedule does little to help. Miami will have their work cut out for them, but there is no denying that the Hernandez tragedy helps the Dolphins’ cause, and when you are trying to dethrone NFL royalty, you can use all the help you can get.