From a personnel standpoint, there may be no bigger question mark heading into this off-season than Tanard Jackson. Tanard Jackson was supposed to be playing for a new contract this season; Instead, he was suspended for the remaining 14 games. Several players are on the fringe of earning a contract extension or being dumped, but no other FA is coming off a year of suspension with a backup that outperformed all expectations. This marks Jackson's second violation of substance abuse and Jackson will not even be eligible to be reinstated until September 22, 2011. Therefor, Mark Dominik has a decision to make.
Tanard has stayed out of trouble and out of the news since his most recent suspension. There is no reason to believe that if this continues that he will not be reinstated. After all players have done far worse things (Vick - DogFighting/convicted, Roethlisberger rape/accused, Stallworth DUI Manslaughter/convicted) and are all currently on NFL rosters after serving short suspensions. There is still a risk in bringing Tanard back though. Clearly, there is some character flaws that prohibit him from staying out of trouble (regardless of the severity). The Bucs not only risk a valuable roster spot that could be given to another quality player in camp and money, but they also risk the chance that Tanard negatively influences a young team. The Bucs have an easy out; release him now and save money (albeit Jackson took a very large pay cut with this mistake)
The "easy out" is there; but so is the temptation of a great player. It's the old argument that has been used when talking about the lengthy list of troubled professional athletes. Does the talent trump the risk of a 3rd chance? When on the field, Tanard is an electrifying safety with great ball skills and excellent athleticism. The combination of Jackson and Talib in the backfield together is frightening to opposing coordinators and quarterbacks. Both have the ability to change a game in a single play. Then there is Cody Grimm. Cody Grimm complicates this decision with his standout performance of 2010. Grimm played 1 average game and 8 very good ones. He isn't the traditional playmaker that Jackson is. He's not a safety in the mold of Ed Reed or Nick Collins. He's also not a pure run-stuffer like Adrian Wilson or John Lynch. He's somewhere in the middle. What Grimm showed us in the 9 games he started in was consistency, pure tackling and average coverage ability. It's a small sample size to risk not bringing Jackson back, but Grimm showed that he is capable of starting in this league.
Does Dominik feel comfortable with Grimm and Jones? There is also the possibility of bumping Jones, sliding Grimm over and bringing Tanard back. They would have the potential to rank among the leagues best safety combos. Corey Lynch also proved that he can be a legitimate backup for the team, giving the Bucs further options. It's not a desirable decision that Dominik has to make, but at the very least, he has multiple (good) options.
[Note by UNFNOLE, 01/25/11 1:10 PM PST ] I am all about admitting mistakes when I make them. Several of you corrected me via email and the comment section that I made a mistake regarding his contract situation. From what I understand after reading about it, he did not play enough games to be credited with a year of play. His contract will be pushed into next season. To make it clear, Tanard Jackson is NOT a free agent. Apologies on the error and thanks for pointing it out.