Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision this afternoon to suspend Dallas cornerback Adam Jones for at least four games for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy is the most predictable event of this most unpredictable season.
Perennial January players New England, Indianapolis, San Diego, Dallas and Seattle struggle; combined record: 14-13. Jones gets into a restroom scuffle. You knew the Cowboys were taking the ultimate calculated risk by signing Jones in the first place, so why should it surprise you that his career might be over in five games.
Analyzing why this happened, and who is most affected by it:
• Dallas owner Jerry Jones. Sound the alarm! Jones was a fool for dividing his team by trading fourth- and sixth-round picks to sign Jones in the first place, and the suspension was the next piece in the puzzle for the most troubled player the league has seen since ... well, maybe ever. But let's think about this. Early in Jerry Jones' administration, after he'd come to this business following a life in the oil and gas exploration field, I remember him talking to me about risk and how he'd run his team. "Quite candidly, of every 10 holes we drill, nine of them come up dry,'' he said with a wicked smile. "There's something to be said for going forward when you have that kind of risk in your life day after day. We won't shy away from risk here if we think a decision is the right thing for the team.''
Let's examine the risks Jones has taken. Alonzo Spellman, Demetrius Underwood, Barry Switzer, Quincy Carter, Adam Jones: bad. Jimmy Johnson hire, Herschel Walker trade, Emmitt Smith pick, Deion Sanders, Charles Haley, Terrell Owens: good. So good, in fact, that the good risks have been big parts of three Super Bowl titles in his 19 years as owner.
To Jerry Jones, taking on Pacman meant he was risking two second-day draft picks for a player who, if he hit big and became one of the best five corners in football, could help win the Super Bowl. If he missed, it's a dry well and some distractions, with only one very big downside. I don't think the downside is the continuing alienation of some veteran players who don't like the circus coming to town as often as it does, who wish the team would conduct its business more like a lower-profile winning team, because in Jerry Jones' world, fame and Hard Knocks and risk are a daily staple. No. The real downside is on the field, where, because the Cowboys signed Adam Jones, they didn't move aggressively to sign a veteran corner last spring or summer who could have helped them in their dire defensive-backfield straits now.
• NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. This was an easy call for Goodell. Adam Jones did this to himself by getting in a fight in a public place after being told specifically and without equivocation he could not engage in any behavior that would draw negative attention to himself or the NFL. Now, Goodell has banned Adam Jones from the Cowboys' facility and told him he'd evaluate whether to let him return to the team on Nov. 17, after seeing Jones' status in counseling and behavior-modification sessions. If there'd been a gun or, worse, public violence involved, Goodell likely would have banned Jones for life. But he's leaving the door ajar, again, for Jones to return. Probably fair.
• Adam Jones. I say he's fortunate. He violated what Goodell laid down for him, and still he'll likely be let back into football in November if he's an angel between now and them. He played well for the Cowboys, not superbly, and at 25 he was showing signs of re-claiming his position as one of the best combo cornerback/return men in football. Now this. Talking to people in the know, I hear there is steam coming out of Goodell's ears on this one, and if Jones is let back into football, he'll be banned for life if he jaywalks or doesn't help little old ladies cross the street. If Jones had the disciplinary Sword of Damocles hanging over his head and he brawled in a men's room with a man assigned to protect him, it's highly unlikely he'll be a reliable NFL player. Ever.
• The Cowboys. The two nominal starters are out, Adam Jones and Terence Newman (groin surgery) until at least mid-November. Dallas did not acquire a veteran corner at today's 4 p.m. ET trading deadline, leaving a 31-year-old journeyman with average cover skills, Anthony Henry, as the only experienced corner on the team.
The four other cornerbacks on the roster have one combined NFL start. Alan Ball and Courtney Brown were seventh-round picks in 2007 and are special-team types. The more highly regarded 2008 picks, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, now will play more than 50 percent of the snaps against Marc Bulger, Jeff Garcia, Eli Manning and Jason Campbell over the next month. Not exactly a murderer's row of passers, but the problem here is Newman and Adam Jones were shutdown corners. Now the Cowboys have a bunch of guys covering Torry Holt, Plaxico Burress and Santana Moss in the next month.
Let's just say someone -- Greg Ellis, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears -- had better start generating more heat than has been coming at opposing passers in the first six weeks of the season. The Cowboys can't count on the coverage holding for very long now.
In the end, the Cowboys are a team at a crossroads, with four of their most important 15 players -- Tony Romo, Jones, Mat McBriar, Felix Jones -- being removed from the team by injury or by suspension for at least a month in a span of 24 hours. If they can handle it and make the playoffs, they'll be a tough out in January. If they don't handle it and implode, one of the reasons will be the risk they took on Jones. It's part of Jerry Jones' nature, and it's not going to change.