When last we saw Johnny Jolly wearing Green and Gold, it was when he was a 16-game starter in 2009 – a feisty, bruising defensive tackle who helped the Green Bay Packers to an 11-5 record and an NFC Wildcard berth.
But after a codeine addiction and subsequent arrest led to a prison sentence and an NFL suspension, it looked like his career was over. However, a Houston judge granted Jolly 10 years of shock probation in May 2012. Then the NFL reinstated him in late February of this year, providing Jolly with a glimmer of gridiron hope.
Will Jolly get a second chance? More importantly, can he help the Pack this year? While it’s only been three seasons, it’s worth looking at what his strengths were/are, and how he might make a difference for the 2013 version of the Green Bay Packers.
That 2009 season, the 6-3, 325-pound Jolly totaled 39 combined tackles with one quarterback sack (on our arch-nemesis Jay Cutler, no less) and an impressive 10 passes defensed. Yes, 10. Despite his close relationship with gravity, Jolly could stretch out and bat down footballs. By comparison, Charles Woodson had 18 passes defensed, Tramon Williams finished with 14 and Nick Collins 13. No other Packer had more than seven.
Jolly just turned 30, which by NFL standards is just around the corner from being a graybeard, but three seasons out of football means no NFL-level wear and tear on his body. It’s sort of like dog years being relative to human years; in NFL years, Jolly is still a relative pup.
But is he clean? Can the Packers trust him to stay out of trouble and focus on football? It’s a legitimate question no one knows the answer to at this point.
“Johnny was a good football player for us,” Packers GM Thompson said in March. “But let’s take this step by step … The first step is for everybody to sit down and talk, that sort of thing. We don’t have any answers, I don’t think anybody has all the answers. But we’re going to talk to the man and find out all the stuff that we can find out in terms of his obligations and that sort of thing.”
Indeed, Jolly’s story was a sad one for a young man who seemed to be on the verge of having the world by the scruff of the neck; promoted to starter after Corey Williams’ departure from the Pack, Jolly was a solid core player whose best seasons seemed to be just ahead of him.
Heck, he even had a really happy name going for him. Who doesn’t like to say the word “Jolly”?
In late March, Jolly reportedly met with Packers officials, who slashed his salary from roughly $2.5 million to $715,000 but chose to keep him on the roster. Does that mean they believe Jolly can help the team this season?
Consider this: Even though the Packers whiffed on signing Chris Canty, it was clear they were looking to beef up the D-line. Jerel Worthy, a 2012 second-round draft pick, tore his ACL near the end of last season, leaving only Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson as viable candidates to start the season on the active roster.
Short of signing a free agent like an aging John Abraham or Dwight Freeney, or a situational pass-rusher type like Israel Idonije, the options aren’t great. What if Jolly, who claims he has stayed in shape and is clean, can come into camp and at the very least provide quality depth? It would be tough to find that on the open market for such a reasonable price.
“I know that the NFL doesn’t need me,” Jolly told NationalFootballPost.com in 2012. “I need it way more than it needs me. I really want to be a part of it, and I am hoping to go back and show that I am a good, reliable citizen that the league and others can depend on and trust.”
I, for one, would be willing to take the risk on Jolly. Worst case, he doesn’t make the team. Best case, he is a candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Heck, and I could certainly stand another couple of seasons of hearing the word “Jolly” during all the Packers’ game broadcasts.
Do you think the Packers should give Jolly another chance to make the team? Click the comment button to share your thoughts.