During the mid-2000s, the Cincinnati Bengals were a national punchline in various media outlets. While Marvin Lewis had turned around the club and they were actually winning games on the field (a stark contrast to pre-2003), the team had become a place for harbored misfits and talented guys who had a penchant for getting into legal trouble.
In a different part of the country, a young cornerback was experiencing similar issues to what Bengals players were going through at that same time. Adam "Pacman" Jones, a No. 6 overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, was getting into major trouble just a couple of years into his professional career.
The big faux pas was a strip club shooting he was connected to in Las Vegas, Nevada. Though Jones wasn't the trigger man and the former All-Rookie Team designee claimed to not know who the shooter was, it was determined the suspect was part of Jones' entourage. What followed was a paralyzed man, millions of dollars in settlements paid out by Jones over the years and a one-year suspension from the NFL for the 2007 season.
Tennessee was disenchanted with Jones' incidents and suspension, which prompted them to find trade suitors for the troubled star. They found one in the Dallas Cowboys who gave the Titans a 2008 fourth round pick in exchange for his services, along with other caveats associated with his reinstatement. Jones found trouble again and only played in nine games with the Cowboys. He was released from the club after the 2008 season didn't play football in 2009.
Let's shift focus back to Cincinnati around the late 2000s. Former Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was brought to Cincinnati by Lewis in 2008 and a change in focus for the Bengals' franchise took place. Owner Mike Brown opted not to take chances in the draft with rookies having checkered pasts, but rather find talented free agents on the scrap heap he could land for a lesser price.
From 2008-2012, Zimmer targeted three players he was familiar with from his time with the Cowboys and other coaching gigs, to squeeze out every ounce of good football left out of "his guys". Defensive tackle Tank Johnson was added to the Bengals' roster in 2009 and was a big key to the team's playoff run that year. Terence Newman was a guy who Dallas threw away after many good years of service, and joined Cincinnati in 2012 to give them three high-quality seasons.
Then, there was Jones who the Bengals signed in 2010, sandwiched between the Johnson and Newman signings. That season was a poor one for Cincinnati, as they finished 4-12, prompting Carson Palmer to quit on the team in the offseason following the disaster. One bright spot on the season, albeit a brief one, was Jones' performance in five games for the Bengals.
"Pacman", a name he began to shy away from once he arrived in The Queen City, suffered a neck injury and was placed on Injured Reserve for the majority of the season. Still, in a snapshot of time, Jones had two forced fumbles, one recovery, an interception and a touchdown. It was enough to convince Brown, Lewis and Zimmer to have Jones see the final year of his two-year deal through.
Since the initial two-year deal in 2010, Jones has inked two extensions with the Bengals and he'll be entering free agency in 2016. In his six seasons with the Bengals, Jones has become one of the most productive and greatest free agency signings in the history of the Bengals. While some fans might scoff at the notion due to the team's shyness at making big splashes in free agency, Jones has had a huge impact over the years.
On Sunday against the Seahawks, Jones made big plays on defense and special teams. With the defense reeling early in the third quarter, Jones made an acrobatic catch for an interception to stifle a Seattle drive. Then, with the team needing something to spark the improbable comeback that ensued, Jones gave the Bengals quality punt returns.
Jones wanted the ball at the critical time, too. "I kept telling Darrin (Simmons) we’d break one," said Jones after his season-long 35-yarder set up a fourth quarter touchdown and his 19-yarder set up the winning field goal." And, even though he wants the ball on special teams, Jones respects the decisions made by Lewis, stating: "Coach Lew(is) did a good job telling me when I could go in and out," Jones said. "We’re literally fighting over there every time the ball is kicked, just so y’all know. I’ve got to do what Dad says. I have to respect my elders."
Let's have a look at some of the impact Jones has had on the Bengals since 2010.
In Jones' six seasons with the Bengals, he's been one of the more productive players on the team. On defense, Jones has secured nine interceptions, four forced fumbles, and five recoveries. While the nine picks don't sound like much, keep in mind he hasn't been a "starter" on the defense until the past couple of seasons. With that being said, Jones has eight interceptions from 2013-2015 including two so far this season, one of which came in the red zone.
But, as every Bengals fan knows, Jones' impact isn't just on defense. Although he often has taken a back seat to Brandon Tate on kickoff and punt returns, he is a major spark for the team on special teams. He has one punt return touchdown in his six years and has a staggering 11.7 yards per punt return throughout his Bengals career. It's even more impressive given the limited chances he gets and the subsequent inability to get into a "groove".
Staying Out Of Trouble:
There have been a couple of incidents with Jones since he joined the Bengals, but he's largely avoided legal trouble and suspensions. Part of the risk that inevitably comes with signing a player like Jones is possible unreliability. Jones has kept his nose clean, which is a refreshing change from the young man who entered the league 11 years ago.
When he's been asked about his maturity, Jones has largely pointed to his family and responsibilities that come with being a husband and father. It's been the key to Jones' turnaround in his personal life.
Becoming A Leader:
Jones was always scrappy and had done a good job for the Bengals, but it's been the past couple of seasons where he has embraced the role of a leader. He's been vocal and rallies the troops often, as he did on Sunday against Seattle. "I was pissed when it was 24-7," said Jones, who says he called everyone up around him. "I said, ‘No matter what, keep playing", he said when talking about his late-game approach this weekend.
The Cincinnati Enquirer noted Jones' in-game comments were a bit more animated than he let on to the media, but it worked. It's a small example of who Jones has become in this current Bengals locker room. His impact continues to be felt in a number of ways six years into the team's investment in him.