Sending a message

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

There was subtle rejoicing through the majority of the NFL when the news landed that Tennessee cornerback Pacman Jones was suspended for one year and Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry was put on the sidelines for eight games in 2007.

There was also one daunting question: How do you suspend someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime?

"I wouldn't want to be in charge of defending Pacman, believe me," said one agent, who didn't want to be identified. "To me, sitting that guy down is great for everybody. But you have to think that he's going to hire some serious lawyers. If I was his agent – and, believe me, I'm glad I'm not – that's what I'd be doing right now."

In short, while Goodell's move on Tuesday was a strong one – the league simultaneously suspending Jones and Henry and announcing an upgraded personal conduct policy – there is now a big matter to consider.

Can the NFL make the penalties stick?

"Playing this sport is a privilege, not a right," Tampa Bay defensive end Kevin Carter said. "It's like any high-profile job out there. If you're a lawyer who works for a big firm or you work for a big hospital and people know who you are, your job may not have a right to fire you if you get in trouble publicly. But they can certainly suspend you for that type of conduct."

Carter wasn't one of the many who took pleasure in Jones getting some measure of comeuppance. But he did appreciate the effect it could have.

"If this has an effect on getting guys to tone down on the extracurricular stuff, that's a good thing. But every time you think about that, you have to consider the flipside. What will Pacman do for a year without football? Hopefully, he'll turn it around. What a great story would that be if he can come back from this and have a long and successful career? Hopefully, he'll see the light."

What Jones might see first is an expensive legal bill if he chooses to fight the NFL, despite the fact that it suspended him before the justice system had run its course. He is facing possible felony charges in Las Vegas for a February incident that left three people shot, including one who is paralyzed. He is also facing a felony charge in Georgia for a confrontation with policy.

Still, among the myriad of incidents that Jones has been involved in (he has been arrested five times and questioned by police 10 times), there's no conviction.

There's just the strongest suspension ever for an NFL player aside from violations of the league's drug policy.

To his credit, Goodell has the vast majority of people on his side. Even NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw was quoted in the league's press release Tuesday supporting the upgraded policy.

It will certainly be hard for Upshaw to now have the union fight the suspension after he supported it. Then again, Upshaw is privately like so many people who have dealt with Jones and other players like him.

They don't want to defend him.

"We believe that these are steps that the commissioner needs to take and we support the policy," Upshaw said in his statement.

Another person within the union was more strident.

"The players around the league are fed up. Enough is enough. Yeah, we're supposed to defend the rights of the players and all that. But if you can't keep out of trouble for two minutes, you're making everybody look bad," the source said. "We need to defend players when they're really being treated unfairly by the teams, when they're getting used.

"We're not supposed to hold a guy's hand when he goes to court."

That is why everyone from agents to executives to coaches seemed to be in agreement Tuesday after hearing about the Jones and Henry suspensions. There's a frustrated, angry sense of satisfaction.

Furthermore, Tennessee owner Bud Adams said in a statement that he's still not sure if Jones will return to the Titans after the suspension is done.

Much more will be known after the legal process takes its course. For now, however, plenty of people are satisfied and think the move sends the right message.

"Even if it doesn't hold up, I think it's going to scare most of the guys in the league," a general manager said. "Do guys really want to go through that big a fight? Think about what it's going to cost (Jones). The legal fees and the courtroom stuff is going to be outrageous, even if he wins.

"And all the while, he's not going to be playing or practicing or be in the limelight. That's a pretty good punishment by itself. I think plenty of guys will get the message."

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