Just as it appeared that Justin Blackmon had straightened himself out and was ready to claim a spot among the league's top offensive players, the Jaguars' receiver was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for his second violation of the league's substance-abuse policy this season.
The NFL already forced Blackmon to sit out the first four games of 2013 under the same umbrella. This latest punishment is much more severe, as Blackmon will have to apply for reinstatement at the start of the 2014 season -- with no guarantees the NFL will give him the green light.
"All of us who are a part of the Jaguars family care very deeply about Justin and his well-being," Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said in a statement. "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."
Blackmon first landed in the NFL's substance-abuse program after being arrested on a DUI charge mere weeks after Jacksonville selected him No. 5 overall in the 2013 draft. He also had another alcohol-related arrest while at Oklahoma State. That charge was reduced from a DUI to underage possession of alcohol.
Jacksonville's new staff stood behind Blackmon after he was suspended back in April, and he was allowed to participate in training camp and preseason games. However, that slip-up voided all of the remaining guaranteed money in Blackmon's contract, which runs through 2015.
Blackmon appeared en route to repaying the front office's continued faith in him. He returned to the field with five receptions for 136 yards in Week 5, then made 14 grabs for 190 yards the next week. On a rebuilding team devoid of much talent, Blackmon's ability stood out in an extremely positive way.
However, the mounting off-field issues again will force the Jaguars into a decision on his future. Because of that voided guaranteed money, the Jaguars could release Blackmon prior to either 2014 or '15 without too much of a financial hit. Per OvertheCap.com, Blackmon would count just shy of $6 million in dead money toward next year's cap and less than $3 million in 2015. Contrast that with the $14.86 million penalty Jacksonville would have been on the hook for had it released Blackmon following his initial four-game suspension.
The loss of Blackmon now also increases the Jaguars' chances of completing the NFL's second 0-16 season. Even with Blackmon in the lineup the past four weeks, Jacksonville has posted an 0-4 record and not come within 14 points of a victory. A 19-9 Week 2 loss to Oakland was the most competitive, score-wise, Jacksonville has been this year.
Cecil Shorts again will become the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver by default, with Mike Brown's workload almost certain to climb as well.
But the depth chart is secondary for the Jaguars now to getting Blackmon's issues in order, in hopes of keeping his NFL career from careening off the proverbial cliff. BURKE: Bengals' Geno Atkins suffers season-ending knee injury against Dolphins