Hernandez could face suspension

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez may soon be facing criminal charges stemming from his potential involvement in a recent Massachusetts homicide.

He will probably have a date in Judge Roger’s courtroom, too.

Multiple media outlets reported Friday morning that a warrant was issued for Hernandez’s arrest on an obstruction-of-justice charge related to the unsolved Monday shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. The Boston Globe subsequently quoted anonymous law-enforcement sources claiming that no warrant was issued but that an arrest could still happen.

As the legal process unfolds and more information is made public, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to meet with Hernandez to discuss the situation.

Goodell has the right to suspend Hernandez under the NFL’s personal conduct policy even if the 23-year-old is never charged with a crime or charges filed against him are later dropped. The former happened in 2010 with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of sexual assault by a 20-year-old female in Milledgeville, Ga.

Although police never charged him with a crime, Roethlisberger was still suspended six games under Goodell’s premise that the quarterback endangered underage college students by purchasing alcohol for them and damaged the NFL’s reputation with the attention drawn to the incident.

Goodell also ordered Roethlisberger to “undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals” for clearance to return. Roethlisberger complied, and the suspension was reduced to four games.

“There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk,” Goodell wrote in his suspension letter to Roethlisberger. “The Personal Conduct Policy makes clear that I may impose discipline ‘even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime.’ ”

Such punishment usually isn’t levied against a player such as Hernandez who would be considered a “first-time offender” under the policy or before legal proceedings are completed. However, the rules Goodell instituted in 2006 give him that broad leeway.

Per the policy, Goodell may believe that the “available facts clearly indicate egregious circumstances, significant bodily harm or risk to third parties, or an immediate and substantial risk to the integrity and reputation of the NFL.”

Hernandez could appeal any potential suspension, but such a plea may very well be heard by Goodell himself. The NFL Players Association agreed to continue giving Goodell such wide-ranging authority when negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in 2006. Goodell also could recuse himself from hearing the appeal and give the assignment to another league official as he did with the New Orleans Saints bounty case in 2012.

Hernandez signed a seven-year, $41.2 million contract extension in 2012 that included a $12.5 million signing bonus. With a 2013 base salary of $1.323 million, Hernandez would lose $77,823.53 for each game he was suspended based upon the NFL’s 17-week regular season.

Police are investigating whether Hernandez and several associates are connected to Lloyd’s death. The Boston Globe reported that there is video surveillance footage of Hernandez and Lloyd together from the night of the latter’s death. ABC News reported that Hernandez destroyed his cell phone and home surveillance system and hired a cleaning crew to scrub the residence. Hernandez reportedly hasn’t cooperated with police and has hired an attorney.

Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have become the NFL’s best young pair of tight ends since being drafted by the Patriots in 2010. Despite the fact Hernandez won the 2009 Mackey Award annually given to college football’s top tight end, it’s widely believed he slipped into the fourth round because of off-field character concerns.

The Patriots may be without both Hernandez and Gronkowski to open the regular season. Gronkowski is expected to enter training camp on the physically unable to perform list following last week’s back surgery.