According to multiple reports (first reported by Mike Reiss and Adam Schefter of ESPN), the Patriots and tight end Aaron agreed to a long term contract extension that will keep the third year star under contract with the team through the 2018 season.
Hernandez joins fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski as young, longterm stars locked up on the offensive side of the ball. Earlier in the offseason, Gronkowski was signed to an extension that will keep him under contract through the 2019 season.
Having Hernandez and Gronkowski locked up long term ensures that the Patriots will have two of the very best at the position for the better part of the decade, most likely beyond the Tom Brady era. We know exactly what these two bring to the table and how well they compliment each other - it's really a great move by the Patriots. That being said, who are the next candidates that could be up for an extension? A few possibilities after the jump!
Brandon Spikes, LB (Signed through 2013): An under-the-radar candidate, Spikes could be primed for a break-out 2012 season. He's very valuable as a run-stopper, but has also shown good instincts in coverage despite his limited athleticism. If he's willing to take a slightly below market deal for long term security, both sides could benefit. I'm sure the Patriots would love to have the Mayo-Spikes-Hightower trio locked up for the forseeable future.
Pat Chung, S (Signed through 2012): Patrick Chung is undoubtedly a physically gifted player, but he has yet to stay healthy for an entire year as a starter. Chung might be able to command more on the open market than the Patriots will offer, but if he can prove he can stay healthy this year, I think it would be wise for the Patriots to lock him up. I wouldn't say it's likely Chung gets a new deal before the end of this season, but I wouldn't rule it out entirely.
Sebastian Vollmer, T (Signed through 2012): Vollmer's situation is quite similar to that of Patrick Chung's, but to an even more severe degree. Vollmer just hasn't been healthy the last two seasons, and it's more than fair to ask if his back issues will hinder him long term. If he were able to take a big pay-cut, I could envision a scenario where a deal gets done. For now, however, I think the Patriots will wait until after the year to make a decision with Vollmer.
Zoltan Mesko, P (Signed through 2013): Mesko really improved in his second season, and he could be in line for a new contract at some point this year. The Patriots value their special teams players, and Mesko has a bright future ahead of him at the punter position. Assuming a deal would be affordable, my guess is that the Patriots would like to lock him up long-term before he hits free agency, similar to what they did with Stephen Gostkowski in 2010.
Wes Welker, WR (Signed through 2012): Welker would be an obvious extension candidate, except for the fact that the Patriots' window to sign him as a Franchised player has already passed, and they've made their priorities clear in signing other players to long term deals first. Perhaps the Patriots negotiate an extension with Welker this offseason - but that looks unlikely. The two most likely scenarios: he's either given the franchise tag designation for a second straight year, or he walks in free agency.