I wrote about the Lions, the NFL, second chances and wasted talent before, when I looked at the cases of Charles Rogers, Mike Vick, and Glenn Winston. When it comes to Pac-Man Jones, nothing’s changed: the number of chances misbehaving football players receive varies in direct proportion to their on-field ability (or perception thereof). As disgusting as that sounds, it’s really no different than the white-collar workplace—don’t top-gun account execs get away with more “martini lunches” than their non-billable assistants would?
In terms of both perceived football ability, and gravity of his crimes, Pac-Man Jones falls in between Rogers and Vick. Chuck can’t stay away from the bottle or the bud, and it’s never affected anyone besides him and his family. Mike Vick brutally tortured and killed animals, and spent and made five-figure sums gambling on a blood sport; he did hard time in Leavenworth for his crimes.
Chuck's competitive fire went out. Whether it was the drugs, the injuries, or the influence of his old friends from Saginaw, Chuck Rogers simply lost the edge. His speed left him, his desire left him, and he became, as Bill Parcells would say, "just a guy”. Meanwhile, Mike Vick’s electrifying legs and haphazard arm had averaged out over six seasons into a worthwhile starting quarterback, and his moon-high upside hadn’t diminished.
So: Mike Vick’s crimes were much worse than Charles Rogers’, but Chuck had proven he had no value whatsoever to the NFL. Mike Vick’s “maybe a starting quarterback, and maybe even a good one” grade-out means he’s still a potential jackpot. If Chuck Rogers is an already-scratched-off lottery ticket, Mike Vick’s a perpetual Mega Millions pick—and the drawing, apparently, is always tomorrow.
Pac-Man's crimes—for the most part, starting fights in strip clubs—are worse than Chuck’s, but aren’t as brutal as Vick’s, and haven’t been punished as harshly under the law. His raw talents as an pass defender and punt returner are elite, and yet his young career has been interrupted too many times for us to see if he’ll reach his potential.
In his rookie season, 2005, his sophomore season, and an abbreviated 2008 campaign with the Cowboys, Jones had 25 passes defensed, 4 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. He took one of those picks back 83 yards for a touchdown—and returned 4 punts for scores on 84 tries. There’s no denying that he’d be a perfect fit, football-wise, for the Lions: any young cover corner with starting experience could find a home on this roster, and despite Martin Mayhew’s insistence that the spot is handled, adding an explosive returner to the stable couldn’t hurt. But character-wise?
Jim Schwartz had a salient quote on this during his recent Jim Rome appearance:
I think we've all done things we regret at age 21 or 22.I identify with this—though my transgressions didn't reach "start a brawl with dozens of strippers, bouncers, managers and patrons amidst a tornado of eighty-four thousand dollar bills” magnitude. Frankly, I trust Schwartz to be able talk with his former star pupil, and know if he's really straightened his life out.
What bothers me is: what bothers me? Why don't I want the Lions to sign Pac-Man Jones? If he can help the Lions salve the wounds of the past ten years with some long-awaited wins, why not? It’s the same reason we’re fans to begin with: when we don the Lions’ colors, and wear the Lions gear, and announce to everyone else that we’re Lions fans, what the Lions do reflects on us.
We want the Lions to win because we want to win. We want our invested time and emotion and money to pay off. We want to walk around town with our jerseys and hats and shirts and jackets, and have the glory of the Lions reflect on us. What we don’t want is to be the team that was so desperate that they signed a loser like Pac-Man—and what we really don’t want is this headline broadcast across the nation: “LIONS CB ‘MAKES IT RAIN’ IN CASINO; SIX WOUNDED”.
On the other hand, what better city for a new start? What better team for a reclamation project? If Jones turns over a new leaf, why not have that greening be in the city that needs it most, on the team that needs it most, at the position—arguably—where they need it the most?