Assume nothing regarding the return of Bucs safety Tanard Jackson
Bucs safety Tanard Jackson, who was suspended for a minimum of one year by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last year for violating the substance-abuse policy, becomes eligible to be reinstated on Thursday. He has been a key member of the Bucs' secondary for the past four seasons, making 46 starts, including 16 as a rookie on the Bucs' 2007 NFC South championship team.
Many are longing to see Jackson back in the lineup because of his big-hit ability and clever ball skills. But there are a number of misconceptions associated with this story.
Let's deal with a couple of the bigger ones.
For starters, do not assume Jackson will automatically be back on the Bucs' roster on Thursday, for several reasons. The biggest of these is that the Bucs don't have any control over this situation. Jackson must apply for reinstatement and that request will be granted only when Goodell deems it appropriate. There are conditions associated with players' suspensions, and unless those conditions are met, he is not reinstated. And the substance-abuse policy does not specify when Goodell must make a decision. Because details are confidential, there's no way to know whether Jackson has been in compliance.
Here's the exact language from the policy dealing with reinstatement of players in Stage 3 of the program, like Jackson:
"After the completion of the one-year banishment period, the Commissioner, in his sole discretion, will determine if and when the player will be allowed to return to the NFL. A player's failure to adhere to his Treatment Plan during his banishment wil be a significant consideration in the Commissioner's decision of whether to reinstate a player. A player seeking reinstatement must meet certain clinical requirements as determined by the Medical Director and other requirements as set forth in Appendix B."
Here's another thing to consider: Where do the Bucs stand on opening their arms to Jackson? They own his rights for the time being, and would be able to place him on their roster relatively cheaply. But after being burned twice by Jackson's substance-abuse issues, the Bucs are sure to at least have something to think about. Jackson will be under more scrutiny from the league office as a result of his two suspensions, meaning he'll likely have to submit to frequent testing and other requirements. Any non-compliance could mean further consequences.
One point worth mentioning is that coach Raheem Morris and Jackson have a close relationship, something that can't hurt. However, at this point, the Bucs have offered no assurances to Jackson or his representatives, according a person familiar with the matter.
Another consideration: Jackson may or may not be in football shape. It is going to take some time for him to be ready after a whole year away from the game. Jackson has not been permitted to practice with the team or use its facilities during his suspension. That means he did not participate in training camp and the Bucs, who aren't allowed to have contact with him, don't know what they'll find if and when Jackson shows up. He did, however, appear to be keeping himself in shape when he made an appearance at the Bucs' players-only minicamp held during the NFL lockout in June.
Teams often take advantage of a roster exemption for suspended players that allows the player to practice and prepare while not immediately adding them to the 53-man roster. This takes into account that players returning from long suspensions often aren't ready to resume playing right away.
Jackson is a very good player, one Eagles coach Andy Reid once said has played at an All-Pro level. It's likely the Bucs want him back. But the process is not nearly as simple and seamless as some would like to think.
Keep this in mind as Thursday approaches.