Jets 2011 third-round pick Kenrick Ellis was set to stand trial next week on felony assault charges for an arrest that took place in April 2010 while he was still a student at Hampton University. The trial has been rescheduled for November 28, but Ellis faces bigger issues than appearing in court during the NFL season.
He's not a US citizen (Ellis was born in Jamaica and moved to the States at the age of 11), but holds "permanent resident" status. A permanent resident can be deported if convicted of an aggravated felony, which means that the outcome of this trial could not only cost Ellis millions of dollars, but keep him from ever playing football in this country.
ESPN New York's Rich Cimini wrote last week that because of the stakes, Ellis' best move would be to negotiate a plea bargain before the matter goes to trial.
The key is to make sure that any plea arrangement isn't classified as an aggravated assault and carries less than a one-year sentence, suspended or otherwise, according to Virginia-based immigration attorney Bill Kovatch.Under Rex Ryan, the Jets have taken chances on talented players with questionable pasts, and the results have been mostly positive. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Antonio Cromartie all came to New York with baggage, and all contributed to the Jets' two consecutive runs to the AFC Championship game.
"There's a reason (for the Jets) to be worried ... because if it's an aggravated felony, there's nothing that can be done," said Kovatch, who doesn't represent Ellis. "He gets deported and there's no waiver."
So it wasn't altogether surprising that Ryan and general managers Mike Tannenbaum drafted Ellis, a 6-5, 345-pound nose tackle out of Hampton, in April. At the time, the team said they were "comfortable" with the risk after doing their due diligence.
Before playing at Hampton, Ellis was dismissed from the University of South Carolina for failing multiple drug tests, and one NFL general manager told Cimini that his team shied away from Ellis because of the impending trial and the possibility of deportation.
"That was big for us," the GM said. "It's a pain in the tail, the whole legal issue."
The Jets need Ellis to help fill the void left by Kris Jenkins (to that end, New York also drafted Temple defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round), and given their past successes with players like Holmes, Edwards and Cromartie, it's not unreasonable to think that the gamble on Ellis will pay off.
Plus, as Cimini notes, there's this: "[Ellis] has been a permanent resident for more than five years. Even if he's convicted of a crime of moral turpitude (which is deportable), as long as it's a misdemeanor -- a sentence less than one year -- it won't affect his residency status, Kovatch said. But a repeat offense, he said, would make him deportable."
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.