- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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As of this moment, Pacman Jones is not allowed to play in the NFL. He also might be the most talented player remaining as free agency dwindles into the stage where role players are all that's left.
That's why, all of a sudden, Jones is at the center of trade rumors. He's a talented cornerback, who was drafted by Tennessee in the first round in 2005 and spent two years starting and working as a top-notch return man. Throw in the fact the Titans would probably be glad to unload Jones for a mid-round draft pick, and it's no wonder some other teams are getting excited about the possibilities.
Even though he can't play, teams remember that Jones could play when he did play. That's enough to make some teams look the other way when it comes to Jones' off-field issues. Since he was drafted, Jones has been arrested six times, and an incident at a Las Vegas strip club tipped the scales as commissioner Roger Goodell pondered what to do about Jones.
Perhaps wanting to make a statement about his new personal conduct policy, Goodell handed down a one-year suspension in April 2007 and Jones sat out all of last season. Those suspensions aren't always tied directly to a calendar and league officials have said Goodell plans to review Jones' case for reinstatement sometime before training camps start in late July. Of course, there's still a chance Goodell will decide not to reinstate Jones.
Jones and his agent want resolution a little sooner because they know Jones' value could be at its highest during April's draft, when some team desperate for cornerback help might see a proven guy like Jones as a more immediate contributor than anyone they'll get in the draft.
There's even an outside chance Goodell could allow the Titans to trade Jones' rights before he's reinstated. That would be a gamble for any potential trading partner. But it might be a gamble some teams, but certainly not all, will consider taking. The Detroit Lions already have said publicly they're not interested in Jones. Undoubtedly, there are other teams that have the same feeling. The Oakland Raiders, who have had more than their fair share of troubled players in the past, also are out after trading for DeAngelo Hall.
But there are other teams that likely would explore the scenario. Here's a look at the teams most likely to make a play for Jones:
There were rumblings about Randy Moss before he re-signed with the Patriots. There are rumblings about Chad Johnson as he tries to force his way out of Cincinnati. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones still hasn't made the signing that will make people say "Wow,'' and Jones likes flash. Pacman Jones has plenty of flash.
Cornerback isn't a pressing need for Dallas, but Jerry Jones has a long history of bringing in guys who weren't choir boys (Terrell Owens and Tank Johnson, to name a couple) and not exactly running players out of town when they get in trouble.
Even if Pacman Jones hasn't learned from the past, he might be able to operate under the radar on a team with lots of high-profile guys and a city that's much larger than Nashville.
More than anything, Jerry Jones believes the Cowboys are only a player or two away from the Super Bowl, and he must fill seats when the team moves into its new home in 2009. Pacman Jones has the skills and the glitter to help on both counts.
New England Patriots:
Father Bill Belichick's School for Wayward Children has turned around some problems in the past (see Moss). And Belichick is arrogant enough to believe he can straighten out Jones. Maybe he's right.
New England's secondary has taken a hit this offseason, with Asante Samuel (Philadelphia) and Eugene Wilson (Tampa Bay) leaving as free agents. If Jones is smart enough to figure out he could be an All-Pro in New England's system and straighten up, this could be the best place for him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Jon Gruden is another coach who has shown a willingness to take chances on players who've had off-field issues. Putting Jones into a locker room owned by veteran leaders Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Warrick Dunn might keep him on the straight and narrow.
The Bucs have a huge need at cornerback. Barber's the best player in the secondary, but he's getting near the end of his career and Brian Kelly opted out of his contract after last season. Jones could start at cornerback right away and handle punt return duties.
New York Giants:
Sure, we know picturing Jones working with coach Tom Coughlin would make Felix Unger and Oscar Madison look like twins. But Coughlin and the Giants did show some interest in trading for the volatile Hall before he landed in Oakland.
Jones would be under a microscope in New York, where the media would crush him any time he did something even close to his past behavior. And there are plenty of temptations in the nation's biggest city.
But the Giants could always stick Jones in an apartment in New Jersey and make sure he shows up for practice each day. The Giants are desperate for cornerback help as they try to defend their Super Bowl title. On talent alone, Jones, if he's on his best behavior, would be better than anyone else the Giants could hope to find.
Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.