Justin Blackmon has played 20 career games with the Jaguars and may not make it to 21 after receiving an indefinite suspension on Friday.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith had a code that he strictly adhered to when he selected players in the NFL Draft. He targeted team captains and arrest-free players, hopeful that the quality character selections would be apt to maximize their abilities. The "choir boy" selections frustrated fans, but Smith made one exception late in his tenure.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, Smith traded away a fourth-round pick to move up two selections and secure his claim on the top wide receiver in the draft class, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon.
The selection came 18 months after the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, recognizing the nation's top collegiate wide receiver, was arrested for driving under the influence. Despite the arrest that came after Blackmon was reportedly pulled over for driving 92 mph in a 60 mph zone at 3:45 a.m., Blackmon was suspended for just one game, returning in time to contribute 49 receptions for 670 yards and six touchdowns in the last five games of the year.
He isn't going to get off with a one-game suspension this time. He got away without a suspension for another DUI arrest, the second coming less than two months after he was selected by the Jaguars.
Blackmon isn't even going to get away with a four-game suspension like the one he received for the first four games of the 2013 season after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. What's certain is that he won't be playing in any of the final eight games of the year.
Uncertain is his future after that.
"All of us who are a part of the Jaguars family care very deeply about Justin and his well-being. That said, he must be held accountable and accept the consequences announced today by the NFL. His suspension will provide him the opportunity to receive the attention and professional treatment necessary to overcome his challenges, and we will support him during this time. The Jacksonville Jaguars will evaluate Justin's status once he has successfully met the criteria to be considered for reinstatement to the league."
After sitting out the remainder of the 2013 season, Blackmon will have to wait for reinstatement from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before he can play again. Entirely dependent on his recovery and actions, that could be any time in 2014, but it might not matter.
|Year||Base||Signing Bonus||Roster Bonus||Cap Hit|
|2012||$390,000||$2,975,818||$700,000 (March '13)||$3,365,818|
|2013||$289,745||$2,975,818||$1,000,000 (August '13)||$3,265,563|
|2014||$2,072,910||$2,975,818||$1,700,000 (March '14)||$5,048,728|
|2015||$2,914,365||$2,975,818||$1,390,000 (March '15)||$5,890,183|
Blackmon signed a four-year deal with the Jaguars worth $18.5 million in August 2012, two months after a DUI arrest. The deal took longer than any other rookie deal of the season, causing Blackmon to miss the first 11 days of training camp.
Looking to protect themselves in the event that the receiver wasn't able to stay clean during his career, the Jaguars gave their first round pick a smaller signing bonus than the fifth-overall selection would usually receive, instead giving larger roster bonuses later in his contract.
While missing a total of 13 weeks will cost Blackmon roughly $2.7 million of his 2013 salary, according to Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap, he could have more money in jeopardy as well. Due to receive a $1.7 million roster bonus in March and another $1.39 million bonus in 2015, the Jaguars could save roughly $10 million by releasing the receiver before he plays another snap with the team.
"You void your guarantees 99.9 percent of the time when you are suspended and I would expect that to be the case now with him," Fitzgerald told Big Cat Country. "So basically before his suspensions the Jaguars would have had to pay him his full 2014 and 2015 salaries and offseason bonuses. Now they should be able to cut him without owing him a penny in cash. I don't think they will cut him next year, but they have that option now."
Restructuring his deal is impossible too with rules in the newest collective bargaining agreement prohibiting the renegotiation of rookie deals until after a player's third season in the NFL.
Ultimately, at his best, Blackmon is easily worth the $10 million the Jaguars would save by releasing him. In just four games in 2013, the second-year receiver managed to accumulate 29 receptions for 415 yards and a touchdown.
If he was able to keep that pace for the final eight games of the year, Blackmon would have finished the season with 87 receptions for 1,245 yards.
No player other than Jimmy Smith or Keenan McCardell has been able to accumulate more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season with the Jaguars. A season with 1,245 yards would have been the third-most in franchise history.
"I want to sincerely apologize to Mr. Khan, my teammates, my coaches and to the Jaguars fans for not utilizing the resources that I was provided to overcome my challenges. I am determined to overcome the issues that have resulted in this situation, and I truly appreciate the support that the Jaguars and my agent have shown me.
I will address these matters with the type of intensity I usually direct toward my on-field play so that I can be ready to be a productive member of the team and community next season. Again, I am truly sorry to Mr. Khan, my teammates and coaches and to the Jaguars fans for the impact of my situation on the team as well as to my family and friends and those that have been there for me during these challenging times. Nobody is more disappointed with all of this than me."
But the risk involved with keeping Blackmon on roster is obvious. He managed to break the team's trust twice in a span of seven months. The Jaguars would have to be fully convinced that he wouldn't make a third mistake under the Caldwell regime if the team elected to keep him on the roster.
That's a lot to ask from a player that will be under the NFL's microscope for the remainder of his career. Too much to ask, according to plenty of local media.
Among those that think the Jaguars will move on is Florida Times-Union beat writer Ryan O'Halloran. On Friday night, he joined Frank Frangie and Rick Ballou of 1010XL to discuss the receiver's suspension. "I think he's played his last game as a Jaguar," O'Halloran said. "He's let down this organization a minimum of 4 times, at some point you have to move on."
Thought to be the strength of the roster through the first eight weeks of 2013, suddenly the wide receiver position has a hole for the foreseeable future. And perhaps even longer than that.