Pacman's innocence a cautionary tale

CINCINNATI -- For now, the Cincinnati Bengals can breathe easy. Their great cornerback scare has subsided.

When Hamilton County (Ohio) Municipal Court Judge Robert Taylor handed down a “not guilty” verdict Tuesday afternoon in the two-day misdemeanor assault trial of Adam Jones, the Bengals avoided the nightmare scenario some had envisioned early this summer.

That scenario included watching “Pacman,” their prized pass-defending specialist go to jail for six months, and them scrambling to shift around personnel to account for his possible midseason departure.

Thanks to Taylor’s ruling, though, the Bengals were able to keep their secondary intact ... for now.

Even though the judge declared Jones not guilty at the end of a two-day misdemeanor assault trial, the NFL’s executioner and enforcer, commissioner Roger Goodell, could see things differently and suspend the nine-year veteran for multiple games as part of a violation of the league’s player conduct policy. In the immediate hours after Jones’ exoneration, there was no indication Goodell planned to go that route.

The hope inside the offices at Paul Brown Stadium is that Goodell comes to a reasonable conclusion about Jones’ busy offseason. There also is hope that this entire affair serves as a cautionary tale for Jones, the enigmatic cornerback affectionately known more by his unique nickname than the name given him at birth.

Had Taylor decided to go a different way with his decision, damaging consequences may not have only come to Jones, but also to his 52 Bengals brothers, too.

For a team trying to convince the sports world that it is Super Bowl caliber, the distraction and media frenzy a six-month jail sentence could have brought might have been enough to wreck those plans. It would have meant Cincinnati would have had to go through personnel tweaks and a period of public-relations rebuilding. The franchise has exhaustive experience with both in recent years, but they weren’t legitimate deep-postseason contenders those seasons.

But, hey, coulda, shoulda, woulda. As we well know, none of that has happened ... for now.

Since it hasn’t, Tuesday’s ruling ought to also serve as a cautionary tale for the league’s offensive coordinators.

The 31 of them not named Jay Gruden now have to buckle down that much more on their game plans against the Bengals’ impressive defense. They can’t slack off when they encounter Cincinnati, thinking it will be frantically looking for an adequate “Pacman” replacement.

The timing of the verdict also plays into the Bengals’ favor because it appears their once-beat up cornerback corps will soon be at full strength. Leon Hall looks poised to return from a hamstring injury against Buffalo this weekend, making an already strong secondary even sturdier.

Jones’ court appearance stemmed from his involvement in a case that Taylor considered the product of reaction and not action. It was the judge’s opinion that Jones didn’t act out of random malice June 5 when he hit 34-year-old Shannon Wesley in the face at a downtown Cincinnati nightclub. Taylor surmised through court testimony and video evidence that Jones was simply reacting to the already negative behavior the woman exhibited. After she poured beer onto Jones’ shoulder and raised a bottle toward him, Jones went into self-defense mode, the judge said.

“The initial aggressor in this case was Shannon Wesley with her beer bottle,” Taylor said, according to news reports. “What we have here is all people, including [Jones], lacking in civility.”

Taylor was presiding over the trial for another judge who was on maternity leave. He requested the entire incident serve as a cautionary tale for all involved: Jones wasn’t right to do what he did, but he can’t be blamed for thinking his life and livelihood were in danger.

This wasn’t the first time the 30-year-old defender has faced the types of harrowing legal odds that were before him.

Last year, a Nevada jury ordered Jones to pay more than $11 million for injuries suffered by security guards during a shooting incident at a Las Vegas strip club in 2007. The event garnered the College Park, Ga., native the bulk of the negative off-field attention that has seemed to follow him since his career began in 2005.

In 2011, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct after he was arrested in another case. He was accused in that instance of shouting profanities and trying to pull away as police arrested him at a bar.

Just last month, he was in the news again when he was forced to pay a fine for disorderly conduct after an Ohio State Patrol officer accused him of making offensive comments during a traffic stop. He was only cited in that situation, even though original reports said he was arrested. Before the facts of the citation could surface, calls for his immediate removal from the team and the league sounded across the sports universe.

That latter incident should serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of the world. As much as Jones’ past may place some prejudice about him in the minds of fans and media alike, those on the outside looking in can’t always assume -- particularly in this breaking-news saturated world that hinges upon tweets and retweets -- the worst from him. There will always be, in this country, that old-time presumption of innocence until guilt gets proven.

Since his wasn’t, hopefully Jones can use this latest incident for good ... for his sake. Hopefully, for his sake, this will be the last time we have to mention the words “Pacman,” “jail,” “arrest” and “court” in the same story.

If not, then the Bengals will be going through another cornerback scare that they may not have the patience for.