A big surprise came to light on Wednesday evening, when it was revealed that former Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly will be reinstated by the NFL effective Monday. This news first came to light when twitter user @CwilBurns noticed that Jolly himself posted a photo of his reinstatement letter to Instagram. The news was then picked up by Brian Carriveau, and the race for confirmation was on.
A little while later, an NFL official confirmed Jolly's reinstatement. Adding to the intrigue of the situation is the confirmation that Jolly will remain under contract with the Packers under his restricted free agent tender from the 2010 off-season. The question now is whether Jolly is worth bringing back to Green Bay under that $2.52 million contract for this season.
Jolly hasn't played in the league since 2009, when he started 16 games at left end for the Packers. He was suspended indefinitely during the 2010 season for a substance abuse issue (remember Purple Drank?), which he apparently has addressed and rectified to commissioner Roger Goodell's satisfaction. We can speculate about what kind of shape he's in, but nobody really has any clear idea on that. What we do know is that Jolly proved to be a disruptive body at the 3-4 defensive end position, and was able to take up blockers effectively while providing some pocket pressure. He didn't have substantial sack numbers, but it seemed that the Packers were in general able to get better pressure as a whole with Jolly on the field.
Another surprising stat is that Jolly knocked down 10 passes in 2009, presumably all at the line of scrimmage. While he's not exactly J.J. Watt in that aspect of the game, the fact that he had a knack for getting his hands up and diverting passes was an extra feather in his cap.
For the Packers, the $2.52 million tender would presumably kick in and take effect against the team's salary cap when free agency begins on March 12th. Ted Thompson will have that long to decide whether Jolly is worth one more shot. But if that contract can be voided down the road (if he shows up out of shape, for example), the Packers certainly have the cap space to take on that deal in the short term, thanks to the departure of Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, and Jeff Saturday. A lot hinges on Jolly's work ethic while he's been out of football, but from a purely football perspective the benefits of bringing him back for one last shot appear to outweigh the minimal issues it would cause.