When his mechanics and self-belief were at an all-time high, before the body started betraying him and he allegedly suffered emotional distress over how he was treated by his former Jaguars head coach, Josh Lambo was the closest thing to a perfect NFL kicker.
From his arrival midway through the 2017 season until going on injured reserve twice in 2020 with hip injuries, Lambo made an astounding 79 of 83 field goal attempts (playoffs included) for a .952 percentage. He missed only 1 of 13 attempts from 50-plus yards during that span.
His remarkable accuracy earned him the monicker “Lambo-matic,” as well as a four-year, $15.5 million contract from the Jaguars after the 2018 season.
The sixth-most accurate kicker in NFL history was precision and power, albeit in one flaky-as-all-get-out package.
It all seems a distant memory now — the money, the fame, the feeling his near-invincibility as a kicking marksman would last another decade.
Lambo is in a far different place. Since the Jaguars released him last October after he struggled to find his form, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers removing him from their practice squad a month later, Lambo has been in football limbo and made all his news off the field.
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Unable to land an NFL job, and about nine hours before coach Urban Meyer was fired by the Jaguars on Dec. 16, 2021, Lambo went public with explosive allegations. He charged that Meyer kicked him before a preseason game in August, then belittled him with profanity-laced language for missing field goal attempts.
On Tuesday, he went a step further and took legal action against the Jaguars, filing a lawsuit in Duval County 4th Judicial Court, seeking $3.5 million dollars for his 2021 salary.
Lambo is also seeking further unspecified damages for extreme emotional distress because of “the harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation by [the Jaguars],” though Meyer — not named as a defendant — is the one singled out in the suit as the harasser.
What a mind-boggling turn of events for Lambo, once regarded as the most dependable player on some dreadful Jaguars teams. Just like that, his football career may be on the precipice of being done.
By taking the litigation route against his former employer, Lambo is unquestionably going from once being among the team’s more popular players with fans to rather polarizing. He’s certainly not on an ideal path for a quick return to the NFL, though it’s possible Lambo could entice one team outside the Jaguars with a desperate kicking situation to sign him.
His lawsuit has drawn a lot of raised eyebrows and been lampooned in social media circles, including one fan who tweeted: “Does this mean I can sue the Jaguars for emotional distress?”
Whether his lawsuit has merit, which remains a debatable point, Lambo is clearly risking his football legacy in Jacksonville being viewed in a more negative light.
Peeling back lawsuit onion
Lambo’s six-page complaint charges the Jaguars and Meyer with violating what is known as Florida’s private sector “whistle-blower’s act” statute. It prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for objecting to, or refusing to participate, in an activity or policy of the employer that violates the law.
Tallahassee attorney Betsy Brown, who is representing Lambo, claims in the suit the Jaguars and Meyer “violated Florida civil, criminal, and employment law concerning assault, battery and workplace violence” by the coach’s physical and verbal actions toward her client.
The lawsuit asserts Lambo is entitled to back pay with interest, plus compensation for damages sustained as a result of emotional distress and reputational harm. It demands a trial by jury to resolve the matter.
Meyer refuted Lambo’s claims back in December, four months after the kicker reported the kicking incident to the team through his agent, Richard Irvin.
While the Jaguars acknowledged receiving Lambo’s report of his confrontation and disputes with Meyer, team chief legal officer Megha Parekh told the Times-Union that it received no response back from Lambo or his agent after the Jaguars asked how they wanted to proceed on the matter.
Parekh, who handles all human resource issues in the Jaguars’ workplace, reports to team president Mark Lamping, not the head coach or general manager. She added any complaints from a Jaguars’ employee about inappropriate workplace behavior are taken seriously and addressed in a timely manner.
“I can’t say why Josh chose to file in court,” said Parekh. “I very vividly recall the conversation with the agent in August. He explained what Josh said happened to him and he asked me what I thought Josh’s options would be.
“I would have been happy to talk to Josh and I wish they had followed up and taken advantage of that. It didn’t happen.”
Instead, the follow-up came Tuesday in the form of a rare NFL player lawsuit against a former employer. It’s hard to gauge how this mess, which further highlights the dysfunction that took place during the 11-month Meyer regime, will legally play out.
Proving harassment may be tough
Tad Delegal, a Board-certified labor and employment attorney in Jacksonville, has no connection to the Jaguars or the Lambo lawsuit. He has read the complaint and has several questions, among them why Lambo filed suit instead of pursuing arbitration through the NFL Players Association.
“It’s not a cut-and-dried thing,” Delegal said. “I can’t predict if [Lambo] is going to win this or not. I see a lot of challenges, a lot of things difficult to overcome to win.
“I don’t know what all the facts are. I’d say if it does continue in court, there’s going to have to be more clarification of the complaint. All they say is he was harassed and don’t give an explanation of how he was harassed.”
The complaint makes several references to Meyer harassing Lambo and creating a hostile work environment, starting with the kicking incident and alleged the coach threatened to cut him if he “ever objected to [Meyer’s] behavior or challenged his authority again.”
Delegal never suggested or implied Lambo’s suit lacked merit, but he does wonder if Lambo and his attorney can prove the alleged harassment was directly related to the kicker calling out Meyer’s behavior and reporting it to the team.
“It doesn’t say Lambo was fired in retaliation for him blowing the whistle,” said Delegal. “What he’s saying is he was harassed so much that he started kicking badly, which would be tough to prove. It’s interesting that he’s claiming Urban Meyer was such a jerk to me, I couldn’t perform [as a kicker]. That’s a pretty tall order. It doesn’t explain the post-whistle blower harassment. It’s going to be tough to prove.”
Messages left with Brown, who was out of the office, at the Tallahassee law firm of Fasig/Brooks were not returned.
Whatever happens with this legal process — possibly the Jaguars and the 31-year-old kicker settling out of court or the matter getting resolved through some kind of arbitration — nobody imagined the end of Lambo’s career with the Jaguars might be remembered as much for suing the team as kicking so many clutch field goals.
‘Eye-opening’ move by Lambo
Mike Hollis, the Jaguars’ placekicker from 1995-2001 and the second-leading scorer (764 points) in franchise history behind Josh Scobee, acknowledges he was stunned when he learned Lambo was suing the team.
“I don’t know where to go with this [lawsuit],” said Hollis. “[Lambo] has got to prove some things and I honestly don’t know how he’ll be able to do it, but I have to stay neutral. I know his hip was bothering him.
“For Lambo to do something like this is eye-opening. I was as surprised as anybody. Any sort of a player-team issue that are dealt with, it’s usually through the [players] union.”
What doesn’t surprise Hollis, based on his own experience with kicking struggles, is the notion that Lambo might have endured abnormal stress coming off his 2020 hip injuries. He didn’t care to speculate how any conflicts with Meyer might have impacted his performance during the ‘21 season.
“As a kicker, stress levels are way up there because you’re expected to play at the highest level and it’s very challenging to maintain,” said Hollis. “What I felt personally is when the stress gets to a certain point, you can’t take it anymore.
“I had back issues and that started to drain on me. Part of the reason I retired was because of the stress level involved. I’m not sure by this [lawsuit] move if he will play again. Maybe he’s decided he doesn’t want to play anymore and just wants to get something out of this situation.”
Not to kick a kicker when he’s down, but this lawsuit is going to look to many like one last money grab for a player who made over $10 million in seven NFL seasons. It’s hard under the present circumstances to envision an NFL team wanting to give Lambo an opportunity to compete for a job any time soon.
Since most kickers not named Justin Tucker become expendable at the first sign of a slump, Lambo suing the Jaguars and performing as shaky as he did last year puts him in a rather untenable position.
It may not help Lambo’s cause for NFL employment that, impressive resume aside, he’s known to have a rather unfriendly demeanor. As one former Jaguars’ staff member put it: “He was always very hard to deal with.”
But since Meyer lost all NFL credibility with his inexcusable conduct on multiple fronts, Lambo will also have some sympathizers who hope he cashes in one more NFL lotto ticket from the Jaguars.
And if Lambo does collect, how might that impact the Jaguars seeking to fire Meyer for cause, possibly saving owner Shad Khan millions of dollars?
No matter the outcome, this isn’t the way anybody expected to see Josh Lambo possibly exit the NFL: with his name connected to Urban Meyer and a lawsuit, instead of maybe as the greatest kicker to ever put on a Jaguars uniform.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540
Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette
Source: Ross Arrowsmith