The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t afraid to take a chance on a player.
Tuesday the team announced it had reinstated linebacker Brandon Joiner on the 90-man roster. Joiner just got out of prison after serving eight months of concurrent three-year sentences for robbery and felony drug charges.
The knee-jerk reaction is to say the Bengals are bringing in another criminal, but this story may be different.
Joiner’s crime took place in 2007, when he was a freshman at Texas A&M. The Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent a year ago, and stood by him since he was sentenced last May. He also has said and done a lot of right things since he left A&M and went to Navarro Junior College and Arkansas State.
The Bengals declined an interview request with Joiner, saying they’d rather wait for him to be with the team when he meets the media. It’s the same way they handled linebacker Vontaze Burfict a year ago, and Burfict had an excellent rookie season after leaving college with a troubled reputation.
When Joiner was sent to prison last May, the Bengals posted a statement on the team’s web site that read: “Brandon must serve a sentence for a crime he was convicted of in 2007 — when he was 18. But his positive actions during the past five years, including significant community service work, graduation from Arkansas State University and an unblemished subsequent behavior record, have generated a group of active supporters that includes Mike Beebe, the Governor of Arkansas, and Hugh Freeze, Brandon’s head coach at Arkansas State and now head coach at Mississippi. In kind, the Bengals support Brandon’s future opportunity for a career in the NFL.”
The Bengals never wavered in their support. They were well aware of his legal issues when they signed him and retained his rights while he was in prison by placing him on the reserve-did not report list.
Bengals linebacker coach Paul Guenther even sent Joiner letters and called him while he was in prison.
“The support made the time go by faster,” Joiner told the Cincinnati Enquirer the day of his release. “It’s a spiritual, mental and physical drain. You have a lot of time to think about your life and where you’re headed. Along the same time of it being a curse it was a blessing and now I have a great opportunity. When something is taken from you, you go get it and don’t look back.”
Joiner left Arkansas State in 2011 as the Sun Belt Conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. As a defensive end, he tied for fourth nationally with 13 sacks. In two seasons with Arkansas State, he had 24½ tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. He was considered one of the better outside pass rushers in the draft.
But a very serious mistake from his past kept teams from drafting him.
In November of 2007, Joiner and a former A&M teammate broke into a house and stole cash, a cell phone and drugs from a known drug dealer.
Joiner was indicted on three felonies, and kicked off the A&M team.
His attorney, Jay Granberry, worked out a plea deal that allowed Joiner to continue school and play football while doing community service. The next four years he spent holidays in jail and in his spare time did his service work – which included extra time speaking to youth groups and schools about his mistake and the consequences.
“Since this incident, which occurred when Brandon was 18, he has conducted himself in exemplary fashion,” Granberry said. “All those that know him are confident he will continue in the same fashion.”
Joiner spent two years at Navarro Junior College, two at Arkansas State and did not get in trouble again. Because of the way he acted while in college, there was hope he might avoid prison.
Joiner now rejoins the Bengals after not playing for a year.
While some players are dogged by trouble, others come back from legal issues. Quarterback Cam Newton was suspended from the Florida team after he tossed a stolen laptop out a window as police approached. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned three interceptions for touchdowns as a rookie for the Rams, and he too was kicked off the Florida team for marijuana use. The Browns took a chance on receiver Josh Gordon after he missed two seasons due to personal and legal issues, and he had a good rookie season. Burfict was considered high risk because of his quick temper on the field (22 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in college), but he led the Bengals in tackles with 127.
Joiner will compete at outside linebacker, where Cincinnati has a need.