Last training camp I grabbed Jacoby Jones as he walked off the practice field. I wanted to talk to him about his new contract. The Texans had just signed him for 10.5 million over three years, and there seemed to be some meaning in that. Kind of a "Just so we're clear on this, we're expecting a 10 million receiver out of you" sort of message.
I asked him if he felt that pressure.
"It's only pressure," he said, "if you let it be pressure."
That was the first time I heard him say it, but it wouldn't be the last. When Andre Johnson got hurt, there Jones was again, in the locker room, saying that pressure could only exist if you believe in it, like the monster under the bed.
To Jacoby Jones, pressure is a bad thing. It is to be avoided. And not only should it be avoided, it can be willed out of existence.
Jones never felt the pressure, and that was the problem.
Unable to get anything for him in the trade market, the Texans outright released Jones Tuesday, 10 months into that three-year contract. Someone will sign him, and I'll be happy about that. Jones is an immature knucklehead, but I think he's basically a stand-up guy.
As a player, he was such a lump of coal. He had the size and speed and every now and then he would do something spectacular, usually on a punt return. I had this feeling that he was always just a couple plays away, a couple games away. That if he could just feel it happen for himself a few times in a row, the lump of coal might crystalize into a diamond. It seems clear the Texans felt that way, too, which is why they kept giving him a chance, why they gave him that contract, even after so many in Houston had decided he was no good.
But diamonds are formed under pressure, you know.
It probably said enough that Jones kept failing to beat out Kevin Walter for the spot opposite Andre Johnson. Coach Gary Kubiak said Walter and Jones were 2A and 2B, but everybody knew the truth. Walter was better, which is why he was usually on the field and Jones was usually on the bench.
This is not meant as an insult to Walter, who is a fine player. But Jones is on another level athletically. If he could have known what he was doing, and used his considerable gifts to get open, and caught the ball when it came to him, he'd have left Walter in the dust long ago.
But he could not. In the pressure of competition with Walter, he lost. When Johnson went down and the pressure went up, he caught 31 passes. And in the pressure of a playoff game at Baltimore, with the Texans up 3-0, he muffed a punt that handed the Ravens a lead they'd never give up.
It is important, I think, to point out that this is a third-round pick from a Division II college we're talking about. He was a project all the way, and the Texans knew that. Kubiak and company spent a fair bit of energy talking up Jones to the public, too, and so the public saw a 6-3 receiver with great speed and a laudatory coaching staff and assumed that somewhere in the rough was a diamond. It's probably fair to say Jones has not come close to reaching his potential as a player, but it's also fair to say he's not the one who created all these expectations.
The Texans tried with Jacoby Jones, and Jacoby Jones tried with the Texans. I believe that. And it just didn't work out.
Because sometimes there's pressure, whether you believe it or not.