By David J. Cohen
Jacksonville Jaguars receiver (for another 24 hours) Matt Jones was booked on felony drug charges after police say he was preparing a sniff of coke with his credit card. He was busted in his old college town (ala Joakim Noah). Jones did something typical of someone still in college. He made a bad line of credit. But the real question is…was it a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express? God forbid it was a Discover card; then Jones can say for sure “it pays to Discover”.
As for his future in the NFL, it doesn’t look good. Jones was a first round pick taken as a project. Scouts were raving his combine numbers and felt he could turn into an unstoppable tight end. Unfortunately Jones never learned how to block, can’t get off the blocks well at the snap, and can’t catch the ball. Not a good combination for a receiver. Now a team would be inheriting a bad player at his position with a coke problem. Let’s face it: you don’t want a coke fiend on your team selling the team playbook to Bill Belichick for $10. Unless someone is going to try and convert him back to quarterback Jones may have seen his last action on Sundays in the NFL.
Ultimately Jones is part of a bigger picture that involves NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Jones will have to enter the NFL substance abuse program but should be suspended for his transgressions. Goodell has set a standard with the punishments to Michael Vick, Adam “Pacman” Jones, and Tank Johnson. Adam Jones had several run-ins with the law but was never convicted. Johnson was suspended 8 games after serving jail time for essentially having too many guns in his room. Matt Jones was caught red handed (and white nosed). A conviction or plea of some kind is probably in order. Thus Goodell must suspend Jones for at least 8 games. Illegal gun possession is a crime but doesn’t affect a player’s performance on the football field. Snorting coke does. Coke possession is a more serious offense because the odds are much greater for Jones to negatively affect someone because of his actions. The odds are much less for Tank Johnson to fire off a round.
If Goodell doesn’t suspend Matt Jones or gives him a light sentence then Goodell will face some serious criticism. People will be able to make the case that when a black player was involved the mallet came down hard but when white people are involved, like Belichick and now Jones, the punishment wasn’t so heavy. But that's probably a bit harsh. However, you could say the NFL is trying to create a certain image. Johnson and the guns, as well as the manner that Vick and Pacman carried themselves, were considered “thug like” and in the case of Vick and Pacman personify the hip-hop/rap image major American sports leagues like the NFL and NBA are trying to expel from their organizations. The NBA has its dress code and the NFL is trying to limit everything regarding the appearance of its players both on and off the field. General Goodell has vowed to be consistent across the board and must now continue this trend in the case of Matt Jones. If he comes down with a feathery touch instead of an iron fist, Goodell is clearly setting some kind of double standard.
The end of the Matt Jones saga in Jacksonville is sad. He was a scouting creation who never had a chance. There was too much pressure on him and the disappointment mounting from that pressure may have gone a long way toward his arrest. It certainly was a contributing factor to his cocaine use. He is another example of an NFL player who couldn’t manage his newfound financial success. Vick just filed for bankruptcy and owes creditors anywhere from $10 million to $50 million. Players are thrust out of college into the NFL with no transition system of substance in place to help them be smart with their money. According to a Rutgers study a couple of years ago an astounding 78% of NFL players are bankrupt, divorced, or unemployed within 2 years after their retirement. So many players end up without an occupation after football, which means they run out of money, which leads to friction in relationships. A better support system early would help players while they are still young in the league prepare themselves financially so they can enjoy their earnings long after they retire. A better support system in the NFL could help a lot of players down the road while keeping them out of trouble.
It may have saved Matt Jones.