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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Pondering Jones' future


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Chris Mortensen's report that Matt Jones has been fined but won't be suspended over a violation of a court-mandated drug program has set off quite a debate -- just check the comments.

 
  Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
  If given a chance with a new team, wide receiver Matt Jones could be a valuable role player.

Much of the conversation about the free-agent receiver is about race and whether the league treats a guy like Jones, who's white, the same as it treats African-Americans in similar situations.

I think the league, like drug test results, does well to be colorblind on such matters. It's not an unreasonable conversation to engage in, but let's be careful to compare apples to apples. That means Jones and Michael Vick, no matter their race, don't belong in the same conversation about league discipline, because the degree of their offenses is quite different in the eyes of American law enforcement and jurisprudence.

On to Jones' future.

He is an obvious risk for any team that would sign him. He's in the league's substance abuse program and served a three-game suspension at the end of last season. A new violation likely would mean a year suspension.

But I think he's a risk some team is going to take. It may not be until someone is hurt or a team decides its receivers are insufficient in training camp.

I recently asked a person with a large voice in personnel decisions in his organization about Jones. He said he thinks Jones might blossom in a second-chance destination, provided the right atmosphere.

The expectations certainly would be different and that can be a huge benefit for a guy. In Jacksonville, Jones always was going to be viewed as a first-round pick. His emergence last season an effective possession receiver was nice, but that description doesn't scream "first-round value" to many.

A receiver drafted 18th overall brings expectations of big plays, and Jones produced few of those in 55 games -- with only 166 catches and just a 13-yard average.

With a new team that likely will pay him a small bonus and the veteran minimum with incentives, he'll be looked to as a role player. Outside of North Florida, a free agent who can make the clutch 7-yard catch on third-and-7 could be viewed as a successful signing.

Sign him and he stays clean and he might just be an important contributor. Sign him and he gets suspended, you'll get hit hard for bringing him in at all.

Even with that risk, given a choice between tall, veteran, possession-type receivers, would you rather have Jones, who's 26, or Drew Bennett, who's 31?

If I have Jones in for a meeting and he convinces me he's on track, I might lean toward the first choice.