It’s the most favorable legal decision an active Patriots player has received since fawning federal Judge Richard M. Berman nullified Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension in 2015. (That ruling was overturned by a federal appellate court in 2016.)
The Patriots scored their first victory of the season Tuesday when cornerback Jack Jones dodged prosecution and possible incarceration related to trying to bring two loaded guns through security at Logan Airport June 16. It’s a big win for the team and for Jack Jones the professional football player, but Jack Jones the developing adult, not so much.
The decision by Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden to backpedal faster than Jones does on the eight firearm-specific charges the Patriots defensive back was facing feels generous. Prosecutors are given Belichickian latitude with cases, but Jones went from potentially facing up to 30 years in prison on 10 total charges to a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card. Under a plea deal, he must serve one year of pre-trial probation and do 48 hours of community service for two counts of an airport security violation, which sounds like he brought the wrong size shampoo through TSA.
Second chances are the American Way, as steeped in red, white, and blue as the Patriots motif. But Jones gets them in Costco bulk, ducking the most onerous consequences. He repeatedly demonstrates dubious decision-making and questionable judgment. But it slides off him like Teflon because of his football ability at a premium position. It’s actually a disservice to the man. How is Jones supposed to learn from his mistakes without confronting the consequences of them?
He’s one NFL play, one knee injury, away from not being granted the same leniency, patience, and courtesy. Then what? He, the Patriots, and their fans don’t care about that now. That’s a future problem, and that’s ultimately part of the problem with professional sports. The players are commodities until they’re not.
Jones recognizes and covers patterns for a living. Hopefully, he can recognize his own and break it.
He was dismissed from the USC football team in May of 2018 because of academic performance. Three weeks later, he was arrested around 3:45 a.m. on felony charges of commercial burglary under $950 and conspiracy to commit a crime for breaking into a Panda Express restaurant in Santa Paula, Calif. The charges were pled down to a misdemeanor charge of second-degree burglary. He was sentenced to 45 days of house arrest.
Former NFL linebacker and fellow Long Beach, Calif., native Antonio Pierce vouched for Jones to get another shot at Arizona State, where Pierce was on the coaching staff. Pierce, a member of the 2007 New York Giants team that upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, coached Jones in high school.
Jones landed at Arizona State in 2019. In 2020, he was suspended along with another player for a violation of team conduct policy following the first game and never suited up again that season. That was the COVID season, so the Sun Devils started play Nov. 7 and played only four games.
Last year, as a rookie with the Patriots, Jones, who slipped to the fourth round of the NFL Draft because of character concerns, showed promise. In his first NFL start, he intercepted four-time NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. In that same game, he became the first rookie in NFL history with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception return for a touchdown in the same contest.
However, his rookie campaign ended on a sour note. He was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury and suspended by the team in January. According to reports, Jones wasn’t diligent with his rehabilitation and missed sessions. His agent said it was the result of a “miscommunication.” Eight days before his arrest at Logan, Jones, via social media, denied a report related to that suspension that he also mouthed off to Bill Belichick.
Despite pending charges, the Patriots let Jones participate in training camp from the outset. In a bizarre episode, the irascible Jones just walked off the field Aug. 3 following a contentious rep. He returned but didn’t participate in the remainder of the practice. The Patriots papered it over as though it never happened.
That seems to happen for Jones.
The idea isn’t to demonize the 25-year-old Jones. We all make mistakes. However, if the message is that he can keep crossing the line and get away with it, then what’s the incentive for change?
The NFL could punish Jones under its personal conduct policy, but don’t hold your breath.
It’s quite possible that Hayden looked at the facts of the case and thought the DA’s office couldn’t get a conviction on the two counts each of possession of ammunition without a firearm identification card, unlawful possession of a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm, and possession of a large-capacity feeding device. Or that it wasn’t the best use of resources.
Anyone who has ever gone to the airport has heard the repeated announcements about being vigilant with your luggage, not leaving it unattended, and not carrying anything for someone else. You’re responsible for what’s in your luggage — unless you’re an NFL football player.
The explanation provided in the nolle prosequi — a notice of abandonment of prosecution — stated “that it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Jones had knowledge that he possessed the firearms in his bag at the time of the incident.” At his arraignment, prosecutors said the black duffel bag Jones carried had a tag with his name on it.
Which explanation are we supposed to buy? That Jones was acutely aware of these guns he had transported into the state at some point, was working diligently to get them legally licensed, and was prepared to transport them on his flight from Boston to Los Angeles on June 16, thinking it acceptable? Or is it that he totally forgot about them, hadn’t thought about them in a while, and had no idea they were in the carry-on bag until it was too late?
To a layman, it appears to be Choose Your Own Adventure legal theory.
No one is suggesting that Jones should’ve been locked up with the key thrown away. But in this plea deal, he didn’t even have to accept the appearance of responsibility or negligence.
Hopefully, the next person who looks like Jones or me and makes the same mistake but is not a professional athlete will be shown similar clemency by the DA.
The outcome of the case is certainly beneficial for Jones in the short term, but it might not be in the long run.