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After felony charge dropped, what's next for Bengals' Adam Jones?

CINCINNATI -- Bengals cornerback Adam Jones is no longer facing a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance after local prosecutor Joe Deters dismissed the matter Wednesday.

Still remaining are misdemeanor charges of assault, disorderly conduct and obstructing official business after his arrest on Jan. 3. He plans to plead not guilty to the charges, according to one of his attorneys.

While Jones' future looks brighter in the legal sense, he potentially could face discipline from the NFL, a much longer and more vague process.

The NFL hasn't said much about the issue and likely won't say anything until a decision on the misdemeanor charges is made.

"Our review continues under the personal conduct policy, which states that a player may still be subject to potential discipline even if the conduct does not result in a criminal conviction," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an email.

What does that mean for Jones' future with the Bengals?

The team has maintained its public stance that it will allow the legal process to play out. Privately, multiple members of the organization were unhappy with Jones, whose off-the-field issues threatened to end his career at a young age.

Jones spent the entire 2007 season out of the league while suspended for a shooting incident at a nightclub that left two men wounded. Although Jones did not shoot either man, a court ruled he instigated the shooting and must pay $12 million in damages.

Jones came to the Bengals on a tryout basis in 2010 and has evolved into a permanent starter next to Dre Kirkpatrick. He made the Pro Bowl in 2014, has become involved in the community and was voted a captain by his teammates for the first time last season. He has entered alcohol-related and anger-management treatment and pledged to stay in the program longer than normal for the betterment of himself and his family.

However, Jones also played a role in the Bengals' 2015 AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Steelers after an argument with Steelers assistant Joey Porter led to a penalty and aided in Pittsburgh's game-winning field goal. A tirade against then-Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor last season also exasperated coaches, who viewed it as immature.

If Jones regains his 2015 form, the team likely will be fine playing him next to Kirkpatrick for another season. But if not, his hefty salary-cap figure ($8.2 million in 2017, $6.7 million in 2018) could change the team's mind, especially with 2016 first-rounder William Jackson III waiting in the wings.

Jackson didn't play last season because of an injury, but the team holds him in high regard. If Jones misses any time for suspension, even in Week 1, it will likely be Jackson starting in his place if he is healthy.

Now that the team locked up Kirkpatrick to a long-term deal, Jones' position has become more expendable. Jones will be 34 when the season begins. It is rare for cornerbacks to play at a high level into their late 30s, though Vikings cornerback Terence Newman, a former Bengal, will be playing this season at 39.

Cornerback is a position difficult to sustain into a player's late 30s, which is why some transition to safety. Darrelle Revis, long considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league, is unsigned and could be mulling a position switch despite being only 31.

The Bengals have kept this in mind, front-loading Jones' new contract last year so they could get out of it with minimal penalties should his play suffer. However, if they were truly ready to cut ties, they likely already would have done it.

For now, they have no reason to hurry to make any decision on Jones, who is due only his $200,000 workout bonus this summer. With the biggest wave of free agency over, there is also no immediate need to clear cap space to sign anyone else.

At this point, with the worst of the charges dropped, the most likely scenario would have Jones on the roster next to Kirkpatrick and Jackson in 2017.

But Jackson likely will be afforded every chance to start considering a decision on Jones' punishment likely will linger into the summer. That will make the cornerback position an interesting training camp battle to watch.