Keeping up with the Joneses - special prison edition!

By Lou DiPietro  |   Thursday, March 12, 2009  |  Comments( 2 )

Jacksonville Jaguars
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Regardless of whether you love or hate NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his hard-line stance on personal conduct policies, you may be about to see what he‘s really made of.

For those who missed it, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Matt Jones was arrested earlier this week on contempt of court charges. Apparently, Jones -- who was arrested last July on a charge of cocaine possession -- violated the plea deal from his earlier arrest by testing positive for alcohol.

While this arrest is on a much lesser scale than, say, anything guys like Adam Jones and Michael Vick have done -- and certainly just as harmless (and stupid) as Plaxico Burress shooting himself -- it still brings up a question: Do we need to take Jones off our 2009 fantasy draft boards?

As “minor” as this incident may seem, precedent is there for Jones to be banished for possibly the entire season. Yeah, it was dumb; he admitted that he had a few beers while playing golf with his buddies, which seems like a harmless little detail -- unless you’re on probation, that is.

But Jones was suspended for three games in 2008 as a result of the original arrest, which technically makes him a second-time offender. And if the Pacman saga has taught us anything, it’s that Goodell hates recidivists.

While there is precedent there, you have to look at the situation. Matt Jones made a simple, stupid mistake, and he even admitted so. When standing in front of judge Debra Ann Gunn, Jones explained the situation and reminded her that he had been compliant with all the programs and policies that he had been ordered to adhere to.

Too bad, Matt.

According to prosecuting attorney Lisa Dennis, Gunn “wanted to emphasize that even having a beer was against the rules.” The judge gave Jones a choice between 10 days in jail or entering a six-week program at a residential rehab facility. Jones -- perhaps showing that he does want to be clean -- initially chose rehab, but he changed his mind after Gunn reminded him of what that could do to his career.

So, off to the clink he went; he’ll stay there until Sunday morning. Because he has a scheduled offseason body assessment in Jacksonville on Monday, and because he has been compliant, Gunn let him off with the half-sentence.

Nice story and all, but the question remains: Will Goodell care?

Again, it’s known that he hates recidivists, and while this whole situation indeed is minor compared to others, that’s never stopped Goodell. After all, while it did consider Jones’ appeal, the league upheld the three-game suspension originally leveled in October; that ended up costing the Jones the final three weeks of the 2008 season.

And now, because of one small transgression, Jones could miss a lot more time than that.

Even if Goodell is surprisingly light, the Jaguars may not be. Jones is in the final year of his rookie contract, so if they were to outright release him, their cap hit would be minimal. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith has been on a mission to rid Jacksonville of players with sketchy character, and after his second arrest on the same charge, Jones certainly seems to fit that bill.

It would certainly be a big blow to the Jags; after all, in only 12 games last year, Jones set career highs with 65 catches and 721 yards, both totals good for the team lead. Additionally, it’s not as if the Jaguars are loaded at receiver. They just released free-agent bust Jerry Porter, who gave them 11 catches for $10 million in 2008, and Reggie Williams is an unrestricted free agent. That leaves journeyman Dennis Northcutt, perennial underachiever Troy Williamson and a trio of practice squad call-ups -- a quintet that hauled in as many balls combined as Jones did on his own -- on the depth chart.

However, the Jags did just sign left tackle Tra Thomas this week, shoring up a huge weakness on the offensive line. With that need filled, they can look elsewhere with the No. 8 overall draft pick. Now that Seattle has T.J. Houshmandzadeh, top receiver Michael Crabtree could still be available there, and playmakers Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin will both most likely still be on the board as well. Any one of the three could easily replace a released or suspended Jones, and even if they don’t, there’s still a very good crop of receivers -- including Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie, Rutgers’ Kenny Brit and maybe even North Carolina product Hakeem Nicks or Maryland’s Darius Heyward-Bey -- who could be there when the Jags choose again at 39.

When push comes to shove, I would imagine Matt Jones has played his last game as a Jaguar. If this is considered his second violation of the substance abuse policy, he seems at the least primed for an eight-game suspension similar to the one Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry suffered in 2007. That’s not even considering what the Jaguars themselves might do for conduct detrimental to the team. With two selections in the top 39 and a major weakness shored up, it could be Jones’ swan song.

If I were Goodell or Smith, I would suspend and/or release Jones just on the stupidity principle. I totally understand that any guy in his mid-20s loves to have a “few pops with the fellas,” as my old boss would say, especially out on the golf course. But seriously, if I were on virtual probation and subjected to random drug and alcohol tests because of it, I’d have second thoughts about even walking down the beer aisle at my local supermarket. Cough medicine or mouthwash? Forget it; I’ll hack up a lung and/or buy stock in Crest instead.

But hey, when you’re a rich athlete, the legality of minor laws doesn’t necessarily apply to you. Just ask Vick, Pacman and Plaxico. On second thought, don’t; they don’t need any ideas.
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About Lou DiPietro

Lou DiPietro is an accomplished freelance writer who is fascinated with all things sports. In addition to his duties at RealFootball365.com, Lou contributes to TheBleacherReport.com and Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, and has been featured on "The Sports Buffet with Matt West" on 1080-AM ESPN...
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