As you may have heard, former Packers defensive end Johnny Jolly has been released from prison on 10 years' probation. He's applied for reinstatement to the NFL, and has said publicly that he'd like to return to the Packers. So, what should GM Ted Thompson do, assuming that commissioner Roger Goodell grants Jolly's request and ends his indefinite suspension?
Let's look at this purely from a football point of view. Jolly is a 6'3", 325-pound tackle/end who played defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. His virtue lies in being impossible to move; in Jolly's first year in the 3-4, the Packers ranked No. 1 in run defense, due in part to Jolly's ability to eat up blockers. Now, Jolly has never been much of a pass-rusher. He's more of a Howard Green-type: big and heavy but without the explosiveness needed to rush the passer effectively. When rushing the QB, Jolly usually gets stood up at the line, but he used that to his advantage in 2009. That year, Jolly (who also plays basketball) knocked down ten passes and intercepted Jay Cutler in Week 1.
One way and another, the Packers have made major efforts to improve their defensive line this offseason. They signed Anthony Hargrove, Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling in free agency, drafted Jerel Worthy (second round) and Mike Daniels (fourth), and will get Mike Neal back from injury in training camp. Notable returnees include Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji. Green, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn will also enter training camp with Green Bay, but I don't expect any of them to make the 53-man roster. It's already going to be a crowded position, although Neal and Hargrove have regular-season suspensions to serve in 2012.
The Packers drafted and signed -- mainly for pass-rushing potential -- Hargrove, Worthy and Daniels. They already have run-stoppers in Raji, Pickett, Muir and possibly Green. Because of Jolly's lack of pass-rush (two sacks in 37 starts), and because the Packers' offense forces teams to pass and lowers the value of a good rush defense (the Packers faced the fifth-fewest rushing attempts of any team in 2011), his overall value to the team would not be all that high.
Now let's look at this from a different angle. With a few exceptions, Thompson has drafted and signed players that have stayed out of trouble. Cornerback Brandon Underwood and outside linebacker Erik Walden are the only players I can think of with run-ins with the law, and it's almost unheard of for the GM to give a second chance to players with a criminal record. On the other hand, Jolly was originally a Thompson draft pick, and no one disputes his love for the game. He's presented himself as a good guy who screwed up and is looking for another opportunity to turn his life around.
Thompson would be doing Jolly a good turn by bringing him into camp and letting him play in some preseason games, whether he makes the 53-man roster or not. Jolly hasn't played football since 2009, and giving him a chance to get himself on some game tape would go a long way toward some other team -- Oakland or Cincinnati, for example -- signing him to their active roster.
Personally, I think it's unlikely that Jolly makes the Packers; there are too many bodies at defensive end, his playing style doesn't fit the Packers at this time and he's been out of football for two years. But Green Bay loses nothing by bringing Jolly into camp on a veteran minimum contract, and who knows, it might work out for both sides.