As expected, the NFLPA has filed a grievance against the Patriots in an attempt to recover bonus money New England owes to Aaron Hernandez. It's an icky situation, considering Hernandez may have killed a person or three, but a contract is a contract.
At issue is a measly $82,000, due Hernandez for showing up to offseason workouts. He did, until he was arrested June 26 and charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd. That bonus was payable on Aug. 1, but when the Patriots didn't cut a check, the NFLPA stepped in. The union's statement makes it clear that this is procedural, not personal.
"On behalf of all players, it is our responsibility to protect the rights in the collective bargaining agreement. We are not tone-deaf to what the allegations are in this case, but for the benefit of all players, there are important precedents here we must protect."
The case will be heard by an independent arbitrator in the coming weeks.
The Patriots aren't sweating $82,000. But with the team attempting to sever every tie to Hernandez, New England decided it wasn't worth the bad press to pay up, and is willing to face the grievance and let an arbitrator force its hand. The NFLPA, too, might not be eager to go to bat for Hernandez specifically, but doesn't have much of a choice: this is money a team owes a player, and it's got to fight for it—if only for the precedent. This is going to happen again someday with a player facing a crime much less odious. This grievance is the system working as it's supposed to.
There's an important shorter-term precedent too. In March, the Patriots owe Hernandez $3.25 million, the final installment of the signing bonus for the five-year, $40 million contract extension he signed last year. That's a big chunk of change New England will very much not want to pay out, and it may have a stronger case. The new CBA allows teams to recoup bonuses due incarcerated players, but only if they're still on the roster, and the Pats released Hernandez upon his arrest.