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29 days

The Patriots open training camp on July 25. Eliminating the Aaron Hernandez distractions before then will be the team’s top priority. Joe Fortenbaugh

Print This June 26, 2013, 12:19 PM EST

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and taken into custody Wednesday morning for his alleged role in the murder of 27-year-old semi-professional football play Odin Lloyd. The official charges against Hernandez won’t be released until the tight end’s arraignment Wednesday in Attleboro District Court. Less than two hours after receiving the news of his arrest, the New England Patriots released Aaron Hernandez.

This scenario unfolds before our eyes just ten months after the Patriots and Hernandez came to terms on a five-year, $40 million contract extension that included $16 million in guaranteed money, $9.25 million of which has already been paid out by New England.

It’s become trendy in recent years to criticize Bill Belichick and “The Patriot Way” because the team’s methodology, which had previously been impervious to criticism thanks to three Super Bowl wins, has suffered several cracks in its façade. Back in July of 2011, only the Patriots could have traded for high-priced Washington Redskins bust Albert Haynesworth and been viewed by the football community as having made a savvy transaction. After all, Haynesworth was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and was obtained for the low cost of a fifth-round draft pick.

But Haynesworth flamed out in New England. So did wide receiver Chad Johnson. And following Wednesday’s announcement that the team had dumped Hernandez—a 2010 fourth-round pick out of Florida—less than a year after inking the tight end to a $40 million extension, “The Patriot Way” has again come under fire.

Bill Belichick and Tom BradyBelichick and Brady have 29 days to eliminate the Aaron Hernandez distraction from the locker room.

These days, the criticism is well deserved. The Patriots knew they were taking a gamble on Hernandez when they drafted him in 2010 and again last August when the team and player reached an accord on a lucrative contract extension. There were concerns about Hernandez during his time at Florida. There were rumors of the 23-year-old’s gang ties prior to leaving for college. The Patriots were aware of all of this and decided to roll the dice anyway.

“The Patriot Way” is no longer bulletproof. And while the organization will no doubt feel the heat from the Hernandez contract extension blunder, that doesn’t mean the team made the wrong decision by dumping the tight end on Wednesday.

The Patriots open training camp exactly 29 days from today. The official mandate will be a familiar one in both substance and delivery: Super Bowl or bust. Anything less than a fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will be viewed as a disappointment.

That gives the Patriots 29 days to answer any and all questions relating to Hernandez. 29 days to speak on the matter, 29 days to address the situation extensively, 29 days to get it out of everybody’s system. The Patriots now have 29 days to do everything in their power to eliminate any and all Hernandez distractions that have the ability to plague the locker room come late July. Deal with it now so you don’t have to deal with it then. It’s the only way to keep the team focused on the task at hand.

Aaron Hernandez is no longer “New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez.” He’s “former New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez,” having traded in the No. 81 on his blue jersey for a lengthier booking number and an orange jumpsuit.

The Patriots were fine with the blue jersey, but made it clear Wednesday they aren’t interested in dealing with the orange jumpsuit. Too many problems and too many distractions come from having something like that on the roster. But that doesn’t mean the team is now free to go about its business. People want to know what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have to say about Hernandez. The official countdown to eliminating those questions from the team's daily routine begins now.

29 days.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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