Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 6/28/13
The Patriots made the tough decision to part ways with one of their most talented players on Wednesday, and now they need to move forward. Aaron Hernandez‘s connection to a murder investigation and eventual arrest on first-degree murder charges led the Patriots to cut ties with the Pro Bowl tight end. The move was difficult enough, considering the Patriots believed in him so much that they handed him a $40 million extension last offseason. But, even beyond the money and broken trust, the Patriots are now left with a major hole in the middle of their offense. Hernandez was a special player out on the football field. His size (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) and skills as a pass catcher made him one of the toughest assignments in the NFL. His versatility, allowing him to line up all over the field, only added to his abilities and made the Patriots’ offense even more dangerous. So, with training camp right around the corner, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have a lot of work to do in trying to figure out how to account for Hernandez’s absence on offense this season. There isn’t really a player with the same skill set as Hernandez in the league right now, which should make that search pretty daunting. Rob Gronkowski, whenever he’s fully healthy, will help the cause, as will guys like Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells and maybe even undrafted rookie sensation Zach “Sunshine” Sudfeld. But finding a way to make up for Hernandez’s production will be tricky. There are still some guys still hanging around in free agency that could help. So, take a gander at the options the Patriots may be looking at to help fill the void — prior team is listed in (parentheses). Click here to see free agent tight ends and wide receivers the Patriots could pick up >> Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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