If the charges against Jones are as cut and dry as presented by state police Friday, then Jones should be released immediately. No excuses.
This was not an unfortunate mistake by a responsible gun owner. Jones’ alleged transgressions were either reckless, stupid, or both. They were definitely dangerous.
According to the police, the loaded weapons were unlicensed and illegal. Jones was also charged with two counts of possession of a large capacity feeding device. Massachusetts law may make the decision easy for the Patriots, as Jones faces mandatory prison time.
Jones is a talented player, one the Patriots figured would play a significant role in the secondary this year, perhaps even as a starting outside cornerback.
Does not matter. Jones is not someone the Patriots need representing their organization if the charges are filed as presented.
Anyone who followed the Patriots back in 2013 should have had stomach flashbacks when news of Jones’ arrest broke Friday night.
It happened on June 16, almost 10 years to the day of the worst episode in Patriots history, the arrest of Aaron Hernandez. Odin Lloyd was killed on June 17, 2013, and Hernandez was first questioned by police on the 18th. Jones’ arrest, like Hernandez’s, came just after the Patriots broke into summer vacation, during the quiet time in the NFL calendar.
To be clear, the 10 counts expected against Jones are not as serious as the Hernandez episode. Jones is not charged with injuring anyone. But the Patriots, of all organizations, can’t mess around when it comes to significant gun charges.
Nor should they forget the hard lessons they learned in the Hernandez ordeal as they consistently looked the other way with Hernandez’s shady behavior due to his immense talent.
Jones, like Hernandez, had first-round talent, but fell to the Patriots in the fourth round of the draft due to off-field issues.
A five-star college recruit, Jones was kicked off the Southern Cal team because he couldn’t maintain grades. He did 45 days of house arrest at junior college for commercial burglary at a Panda Express. He was suspended at Arizona State for fighting in practice. And Bill Belichick suspended Jones for two games at the end of last season because of what Jones’ agent described as a miscommunication with Jones’ rehab process.
Now significant weapons charges.
The NFL warns of the dangers of guns in the manual given to each player during training camp. The NFL’s policy tells players, “Gun laws are not only strict, but they also vary from state to state, so education and awareness are key. You should be aware that if you take a gun from one place to another — for example, on across state lines – a different set of laws may apply in the new location. … Remember, be careful and understand the risks – if you own a gun, take responsibility.”
Jones’ legal jeopardy is his biggest concern, but he also potentially faces a minimum two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s weapons policy and potentially another penalty for violating the personal conduct policy, which describes illegal possession of a weapon as a violation.
But the Patriots shouldn’t wait for the NFL to decide a penalty. Jones must go.
It won’t be a fun decision for the team. Jones took starting reps at outside cornerback during spring practice opposite first-round pick Christian Gonzalez. The Patriots figured Jones would be a big part of their cornerback rotation in 2023 after a promising rookie season that featured two interceptions, including a pick-6 by Aaron Rodgers.
Instead, the Patriots will likely have to scramble. Releasing Jones potentially forces Jonathan Jones to the outside, bumps Myles Bryant into a more prominent slot and puts late-round rookies Ameer Speed and Isaiah Bolden a step closer to the field. It would also require Gonzalez to be a productive starter right away.
To be fair, not all players have problems. Cornerback JC Jackson went undrafted because of an arrest in college, but he had three productive years for the Patriots and scored a big free agent contract.
Perhaps if these charges hit the starting quarterback, or a player with no prior off-field history, the Patriots could afford to be patient and stand by him.
Jones is not that kind of player. Those charges, combined with his history and the team’s history with Hernandez, shouldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt.
Hopefully the Patriots are just patient and let the first step in the legal process play out. When the charges become official, Jones must go.
Ben Volin can be contacted at [email protected].