The Aaron Hernandez situation remains unresolved as the investigation continues, but regardless of the legal result the Patriots may still choose to release Hernandez, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston.
Asked if the Patriots could release Hernandez even if he wasn't charged in the homicide investigation, Reiss said the Patriots may feel "betrayed" by Hernandez and as a result cut ties with the 23-year-old tight end:
Q. Hey Mike, if Aaron Hernandez is not charged with the homicide, do you expect the Patriots to release him anyway? -- Ramin (San Marcos, Texas)
A. Ramin, I think we need all the information about Hernandez's involvement before we can answer that. At the least, it appears he's guilty of drawing negative attention to himself, the Patriots and the NFL; that, in and of itself, could lead to some action from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I don't know this for certain, but I would imagine the Patriots feel a bit betrayed by Hernandez after they made a big financial commitment to him just 10 months ago. If that's the case, it wouldn't surprise me if ties are cut.
As Reiss said, there are still a lot of unknowns in the situation which make it difficult to predict what will happen. No matter what happens, the Patriots are likely to proceed slowly and with caution. If New England released Hernandez today, he would count $12.66 million in dead money against the salary cap, according to Spotrac. By waiting until the legal process plays out, New England may be able to recoup the remaining guarantees in Hernandez's contract while also avoiding a salary cap hit.
Hernandez is still owed $10 million of his $12.5 million signing bonus, but he would not receive any bonuses or salary if he is suspended by the NFL due to a clause in the CBA, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:
Per Article 4, Section 9 of the CBA, "any player who ... is unavailable to the team due to conduct by him that results in his incarceration ... may be required to forfeit signing bonus, roster bonus, option bonus and/or reporting bonus, and no other salary, for each league year in which a forfeitable breach occurs."
That is assuming Hernandez would be suspended following the investigation. If he's proven to be innocent and doesn't face any charges or a suspension from the NFL, the Patriots would be forced to take a significant salary cap hit if they released him.
Either way, the Patriots are likely to let the entire situation play out before taking any action. The only benefit they would gain by releasing Hernandez now is to distance themselves from him, but they've already done that to a certain extent by reportedly telling him to stay away from the team's facility.