Add the mounting off-field issues to Jones' occasional on-field laziness, and the Jags really had no choice but to show him the door. It's not surprising that Jones has struggled to find a new home since then. Teams are understandably reluctant to bring in a receiver with red flags on his resume like "Drug Use" and "Attitude Problems."
But here's what those worrisome tidbits are hiding: whichever NFL team finally takes a chance on Jones will be locking in a guy capable of putting up 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns -- this season.
It's easy enough for a guy like Jones to say he's ready to make amends for past mistakes, yet entirely different to go out and do it. Jones has spent the months since his brief prison stay trying to make his words ring true.
"Before, when he had been in [the program], he hung his head and it sort of seemed like he was ashamed to be here," Washington County (Ark.) deputy prosecuting attorney Lisa Dennis told the Times-Union. "But when he got into trouble that last time, we noticed a real big change in him. He was accepting of responsibility. It's almost as if he grew up, finally."
Jones displays that apparent newfound maturity in his interview with Wright, where he said, "I definitely look at this positively. You're probably right [about getting into trouble becoming] a blessing. ... I'm just sorry for making these mistakes and how everything turned out. I let down my family, friends and people close to me, my teammates."
I guess the question NFL teams are asking now is how much of this to believe.
And representatives of those teams have every right to raise an eyebrow in my direction when I say this: I believe all of it.
It would be easy to be cynical, chalk this up as a guy who is desperate to earn the big bucks again but will burn you as soon as pen hits paper on a contract.
Call me crazy, but I'm riding the train in the other direction. When an athlete screws his life up so badly that he's on the brink of professional extinction, he basically has two choices: keep acting in a way that guarantees your exit from your sport of choosing.
Or straighten up, fly right and get a second chance.
If Jones' eyes aren't open by now, they're never going to be. When (not if) he makes it back to the NFL, he'll basically have one season to prove that he can be a team player, take care of himself away from the stadium and, oh yeah, produce.
Based on his recent work ethic, he appears to know what's at stake.
Jones' situation is nearly parallel to Antonio Bryant's. Bryant had a run-in with police in 2006 that led to a four-game suspension and his release from San Francisco, then sat out the entire 2007 campaign. Tampa Bay brought him back to the league with a one-year, $600,000 contract in 2008.
He responded with an 83-catch, 1,248-yard season, earned the Bucs' franchise tag and will make nearly $10 million in '09.
Now seems as good a time as any to remind you that Jones has shown his own stretches of dominance. Last year, he led Jacksonville with 65 catches for 761 yards, despite the Jags' propensity for running the ball and his season-ending, three-game suspension. At 6-foot-6, he's got the height NFL teams crave, and he's athletic enough to give secondaries fits -- or be a weapon in the so-hot-right-now Wildcat offense.
Jones is also just 26 years old and, after four NFL seasons, finally feels comfortable at wide receiver. Remember that Jones played quarterback throughout his college days at Arkansas. He did not convert to receiver until being drafted, and that's a move that takes some time.
"My first year [of my career], I was just running around, being an athlete," Jones told the Times-Union. "The second and third year, I kind of started to figure everything out. Then last year, I finally knew how to get open, was learning how to play receiver. It felt good."
Even if teams aren't willing to entirely forgive and forget past sins, you're telling me there's no market for a talented, motivated, somewhat risky wide receiver? Heck, plenty of people in Chicago and Baltimore are begging their teams to trade for Brandon Marshall, and he's not exactly the pope.
Jones presents a major opportunity; keep in mind that he's not facing any sort of suspension to start 2009. Based purely on his 2008 season, if you weren't aware of his off-field troubles, Jones would be a prime candidate to tab as a 2009 breakout candidate.
All that promise, all that potential -- it's still there. Should Jones prove that his mind's in the right place now, too, there's nothing keeping him from being a top-two receiver on an NFL depth chart. No. 1 or No. 2 receiver options don't just fall into your lap, especially at a reduced rate.
For the large number of NFL teams in need of wide receiver talent, giving Jones a one-year contract is a sensible risk. A career year from a still-talented receiver is the available reward.