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Cautionary Tales

The cases of Justin Blackmon and Aldon Smith

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

In the last few days, articles about Justin Blackmon and Aldon Smith have highlighted how NFL careers can fall apart. With Sheldon Richardson facing a suspension for violating the Substance Abuse Policy and likely looking at an extended suspension for an alleged incident last week, I thought it would be good to look at some of the NFL's most recent cautionary tales. Pay attention, Sheldon.

Justin Blackmon played college football at Oklahoma State, where he played with and eventually replaced future Dallas Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant. He won the Biletnikoff Award in two consecutive years. He was a Unanimous All-American both years. He won Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 and Fiesta Bowl MVP in 2012. His incredible collegiate career lead to Jacksonville spending the 5th overall pick in the 2012 Draft to select him. Jacksonville fans were thrilled and Mike Mayock had this to say about his potential (taken from his scouting profile):

"It's a great pick. The Jaguars have to give Blaine Gabbert an opportunity. They had nobody to throw to last year. Now all of a sudden there is hope, because Justin Blackmon attacks defenders, attacks the football. He's powerful. He's as good as anybody I've ever seen in college football at elevating."

Blackmon came with a lot of expectations. Within 3 months of being drafted, he was under arrest for a DUI. Still, when Blackmon was on the field, he was impressive. He had an excellent rookie season where he compiled over 800 yards (with Jacksonville QBs) and averaged over 100 yards per game in his sophomore season. But Blackmon failed 2 drug tests, leading to a 4 game suspension at the start of his sophomore campaign, and would eventually fail a 3rd test, leading to an indefinite suspension. Though he would have eventually become eligible for reinstatement in the 2014 season, he was arrested for possession of marijuana while in the midst of serving his indefinite suspension. The league eventually denied his request for reinstatement, with speculation being that he failed or missed yet another test. This week, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell admitted that the talented receiver's career could be over. Blackmon could have been ranked with Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones right now. Instead, after just 20 games, he's out of the NFL. Yes, it can happen just that fast in the NFL.

Earlier today, news broke about Aldon Smith's arrest. Aldon Smith was drafted 7th overall in 2011 by the San Francisco 49ers, and he quickly rose to stardom. Smith posted a ridiculous 33.5 sacks in his first two seasons, despite being eased into his rookie season. In his sophomore campaign, Smith was in a 3 man race with J.J. Watt and Von Miller for best pass rusher; a race that he led until Justin Smith's injury caused a dramatic drop in his production. Smith was arguably one of the best players at his position and had plenty of room to grow. Now he may never get that chance.

Smith was suspended by the NFL for breaching both the Substance Abuse and Personal Conduct policies, leading to a whopping 9 game suspension last season. In 2012, Aldon Smith was arrested under suspicion of a DUI (though it was later reduced to reckless driving.) Later that year, Smith was arrested under weapons charges resulting from a party he threw in which guns were fired and Smith was stabbed in the abdomen. In 2013, Smith was again arrested for a DUI. Smith also had charges levied against him related to a potential bomb threat at an airport. In short, he's been an off-the-field-mess of epic proportions. Today, Smith was again arrested for an alleged DUI in which he is also being credited with both a hit and run and vandalism charges. Though officers called him "cooperative" when he returned to the scene, this will likely lead to an indefinite suspension from the NFL. To top it off, the 49ers finally decided to cut bait, releasing Aldon Smith in response. While his career is not necessarily over, it could be multiple seasons before he plays again and there is no guarantee he ever will.

I could probably keep going until you've completely lost interest (if you haven't already.) I haven't even touched on Ray Rice or Josh Gordon. Some of the NFL's most talented players end up watching on Sundays because of the choices they've made off the field. The NFL takes the Substance Abuse and Personal Conduct Code rules seriously, and they will not be lenient if a player makes multiple offenses. Now you can argue that the NFL shouldn't have this kind of power, that recreational marijuana should be legalized, or whatever you want. But the fact is that if you get caught breaching the NFL's codes, you're not going to play in the NFL.

Looking at how the NFL has treated most of these players in the past, Sheldon Richardson could be on his last chance here. It's likely that he'll have his suspension extended if the allegations pertaining to his arrest are proven true, probably to a minimum of 6-8 games. If he were to breach the NFL's policies one more time at any point in his career, it's likely he'd be looking at an indefinite suspension which could end his career. This would be awful for the Jets, awful for Jets fans, but simply unbearable for Richardson. Maybe the NFL will change its policies in the future and maybe once the probationary period is over, Richardson will have some space to breathe again; right now, he needs to be careful. No one wants him to end up as another one of the NFL's cautionary tales.