Suspended safety Tanard Jackson has been out of sight around Redskins Park but he has not been out of mind among the coaches.
Jackson was handed a one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy just before the start of the 2012 season. The Redskins had picked him up after the Bucs cut him in the spring. His history in Tampa Bay was checkered with some solid play interrupted by some injuries and two drug suspensions. Jackson had played under Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris, who was the Bucs head coach. They picked up Jackson with eyes wide open.
He was going to be the starter at free safety before he received the one-year ban. The suspension forced the Redskins to start Madieu Williams and his presence in the lineup cost the Redskins at least the one game against the Giants when he allowed Victor Cruz to get behind him in the last two minutes, perhaps more.
The suspension was Jackson’s third strike and given how he left the team in a lurch on the eve of last season, one might think the Redskins would want to move on from him. But that may not be the case.
Both Mike Shanahan and Jim Haslett have indicated that the team will give Jackson a shot once he is eligible to return. During a media availability just before the draft Shanahan said, “At the safety position, we lost [Brandon] Meriweather and Tanard Jackson last year and you are hoping that both guys will be back, will be back healthy.”
Asked about Jackson last week, Haslett said, “Obviously if we got Tanard back, you know that’s another bonus because he’s a heck of a football player. I don’t know where that stands with the NFL, but we’d welcome back with open arms.”
Where he stands with the NFL is unable to set foot on team property or communicate with anyone associated with the team. The earliest date the league will consider reinstating him is Sept. 3, six days prior to the Redskins’ season opener against the Eagles. They will get a roster exemption of two to three weeks to figure out what they want to do with him. When the exemption runs out they will have to put him on the 53-man roster or release him.
Even if Jackson appears to represent an upgrade over what they have on the roster at the time, the Redskins need to carefully consider his history before putting him on the roster. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, drug suspensions have sidelined him for a total of 36 games while he has played in only 12. Jackson will turn 28 in July so he has already wasted what should be the prime years of his career.
The worst-case scenario for the Redskins would be for them to reinstate him, have him work his way into either a starting or key rotational role, and then slip up again and wind up with another suspension.
This is not to say that the Redskins should kick him to the curb right away. You never know what might happen between now and the time that Jackson might be ready to return. Perhaps injuries or slow development by the rookies will make him a welcome addition to the roster.
But if everyone is healthy, the Redskins would have to release a player in order to add Jackson to the 53. That means that a player who was around for all of OTAs and training camp could get the boot in favor of a three-time loser under the drug policy. That might not be received well in the locker room.
The bottom line here is that if they want to welcome Jackson back with open arms that’s fine but they should also have a very wary eye.