GREEN BAY – If Johnny Jolly is anything close to the player that he was at the time of his indefinite suspension – and that’s a humongous if, given that it has been more than three years since he last played in an NFL game – the Green Bay Packers could get some much-needed defensive line help for a bargain rate.
The veteran defensive end, who was suspended indefinitely by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2010 for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, has been reinstated, an NFL spokesman confirmed Wednesday evening. The league spokesman said Jolly’s reinstatement is effective next Monday. Jolly turned 30 on Feb. 21.
The Packers are in the market for defensive line help, having reached out to free-agent defensive end Chris Canty for a visit. They also could be interested in ex-Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles this week. Rookie second-round pick Jerel Worthy underwent reconstructive knee surgery on Jan. 15 and may miss the 2013 season with the torn ACL he suffered Dec. 30.
Jolly signed a one-year, $2.5 million restricted free agent tender in June 2010, shortly before he was suspended. Jolly’s contract was tolled at that time, meaning the Packers retained his rights and his contract was frozen. The Packers, who have had Jolly on the Reserve/Suspended by the Commissioner list, have until the new league year begins March 12 to decide what they want to do with him.
Presumably, the Packers will want to restructure Jolly’s deal for a minimum salary, but it’s hard to imagine they would simply release him before getting a look at him. The team could bring him to organized team activities and training camp to see how much his skills have eroded after a three-year layoff and six-month prison stay.
“Johnny has an addiction he must now manage daily. I am very proud of him and I am optimistic he will have a productive life that will include playing football,” Jolly’s agent, Jack Bechta, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Wednesday night.
A sixth-round pick in 2006 out of Texas A&M, Jolly was the team’s best defensive lineman in 2009, when the Packers ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run and No. 2 in total defense. He led all defensive linemen with 75 tackles and also had a sack and forced fumble. The 11 passes he batted down were a team record for linemen since the team began recording the stat in 1980.
The 6-foot-3, 325-pound Jolly had some breathtaking plays – a one-handed interception in the red zone against Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears in Week 1 that season, for example – but also showed his temper, drawing a foolish and costly personal foul penalty for head-butting Minnesota running back Chester Taylor following a play in a loss to the Vikings.
The suspension caused Jolly to miss the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV run. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers later said that he believed the NFL bore some responsibility for Jolly’s fate, with his first arrest dating back to July 2008. Jolly has been arrested four times for codeine-related crimes.
“I’ve been in touch with him off and on the last couple years. It’s just disappointing. And I’ll be honest, I think the league deserves some of the blame in this case,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show days after Jolly’s third arrest in October 2011. “When you look at some of the other guys that have been reinstated in the league after jail sentences, and justly, rightly so, Johnny didn’t serve any days in prison, sat out for a year and still couldn’t get his case heard, from what I was told. I just think that that’s wrong.
“You break the rules … I think the commissioner’s done a great job of cleaning up some of the stuff in the league. That being said, if you take a guy away from his support system like we have for each other in Green Bay, I don’t think that’s helping. I’m disappointed for Johnny. You make your own decisions, obviously, but I just wish he had been given an opportunity to come back to the Packers. With the guys we have here, we could’ve helped him out, I think.”
In March 2011, Jolly had reached a plea agreement calling for five years of deferred adjudication (a form of probation) and 90 days of in-patient treatment on the July 2008 charge. The plea came after Jolly’s second codeine-related arrest. Then, after his October 2011 arrest, his teammates were disappointed that he’d landed himself in trouble again.
“I was disappointed. Sad and disappointed. It hurts,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said at the time. “You root for him, pull for him, and to see him fall back into the same trap, it hurts. We all love Johnny. We just wish he could’ve gotten it together.
“I can’t tell you if it would’ve happened if he was here or not. I wish he was, though. I mean, that’s a big hurt. All of us were talking about it. We all miss Johnny. We were all hoping there’d be a time where he might come back and help us.”
Jolly’s fourth arrest led to him being sentenced to a six-year prison term, but on May 15, 2012, he was granted an early release after only six months of incarceration after a Texas judge accepted his “shock probation” request. “Shock probation” allows a defendant an opportunity to receive probation after a short period of time in a correctional facility. The theory behind shock probation is that immersing a defendant in the penal system for a short period of time could “shock” him or her into a noncriminal lifestyle.
In August 2012, Goodell visited Packers training camp but said he wasn’t aware of whether Jolly had applied for reinstatement, even though Jolly had done so.
The Packers had no comment on Jolly’s reinstatement Wednesday. When asked before Jolly’s November 2011 sentencing if he would entertain the idea of Jolly playing for the team again, Thompson replied, “We’re not going to speculate about that right now. Johnny’s got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a lot of work to do here. I’m not going to throw dirt at Johnny. Johnny played good ball for us, and I’m a little disappointed in the situation we’re in, but that’s about the extent of it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.