In recent weeks there has been talk about the idea of the Jaguars parting ways with former third overall pick Dante Fowler Jr.
The notion that the Jaguars want to get rid of their young pass rusher prior to the 2018 season, while completely unsubstantiated, isn’t crazy.
The Jaguars elected not to pick up Fowler’s 2019 fifth year option, which means he’s set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2018 season. Some believe the Jaguars would be better off getting compensation for Fowler prior to him leaving as a free agent. But if Fowler performs well in 2018 and get’s paid a large sum of money on the free agent market then the Jaguars will likely receive a compensatory third round pick in 2020. So it’s not like the Jaguars will get nothing in return if Fowler goes out and has a productive 2018 season and then leaves the team as a free agent.
Then there’s the fact that Fowler has made more waves for his off the field antics than his on field play. He’s dealt with offseason drama, legal or otherwise, during every year of his young career - and this year was no different. Fowler got slapped with a one game suspension and will miss the team’s week one matchup with the Giants.
He also missed all of the offseason program and most of training camp due to a shoulder injury. As he gets back in to football shape it’s not clear how long it will take for him to get back to being at his best. Reports are that he lost quite a bit of muscle mass.
Then there’s the whole feud between he and fellow pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. The two got into it during Fowler’s second practice back from injury. While the incident has clearly bad optics, at least from an outside perspective, Fowler said that the pair of pass rushers made up after the incident and hugged it out.
To add fuel to the fire a report came out from the New York Daily News that the Jets reached out to the Jaguars regarding the availably of Dante Fowler Jr. via trade.
The combination of off-field issues, disagreements with teammates, the Jaguars electing not to pick up his fifth year option, and interest from other teams, has lead many to question whether or not Fowler is long for the Jaguars roster.
But I’m here to tell you that the Jaguars best option, if they hope to win a Super Bowl in 2018 (they do), is to hold onto Dante Fowler Jr.
Sure, the Jaguars might lose Fowler after the season if he’s allowed to hit free agency, but guess what: If Fowler leaves and gets paid handsomely by another team that means he had a big 2018 season for the Jaguars.
The Jaguars got better and deeper at every level of their defense this offseason. Following the lead of the current Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, and several other recent champions, the Jags should do everything they can to be as deep as they can at every position on defense, especially on the defensive line.
The Jaguars starting defensive line - Calais Campbell at strong side defensive end, Malik Jackson at the three technique, Marcell Dareus at defensive tackle, and Yannick Ngakoue at weak side defensive end - is likely the most talented in football. But even with all that front line talent the Jaguars defensive line wore down during the playoffs. The Jags did pick up three sacks in the AFC Championship, but they were obviously gassed in the second half and allowed Tom Brady and Company to erase a 10 point lead late in the game.
The Jaguars MUST do everything they can to establish a strong rotation on the defensive line - a rotation that allows their marquee talent to be fresh when it matters most.
Behind Calais Campbell at strong side defensive end the Jaguars have Dawuane Smoot, who, if he regains his health, can be effective on base downs against the run. They’ve also got their 2018 first round pick, Taven Bryan, who’s been learning from Calais Campbell. Bryan has earned high praise from Campbell, who said the rookie is the best that he’s ever worked with.
At the three tech, behind Malik Jackson, the Jaguars have Michael Bennett, who has been oft injured since being taken by the Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. But he’s been healthy this offseason and has shown why many thought he would be an early to mid round pick in 2015. He’s got great quickness for his size and should be adequate, at the very least, if called upon during the regular season or playoffs. Taven Bryan also figures to be able to play the three technique.
Marcell Dareus is the starter at defensive tackle, but behind him is Abry Jones, who was the starter for the Jaguars entering the 2017 season. Jones had a solid offseason program and has shown why the Jaguars were so confident in him entering 2017.
Finally, at weak side defensive end the Jaguars primary backup behind Yannick Ngakoue is Dante Fowler Jr. He’s a guy that could start for many teams and is coming off of season in which he recorded 10 sacks (including the playoffs). There’s even several teams out there that he would be THE most explosive pass rusher for.
If the Jaguars were to get rid of Dante Fowler Jr. prior to the season Lerentee McCray would be the primary backup at weak side defensive end. While McCray has shown pass rush ability in the past and throughout this preseason, his primary role is as a special teamer. Beyond that the Jaguars have no proven talent at the position.
The Jaguars should take the example set by the 2017 Eagles and run with it. Keep this defensive line in tact, at least for the 2018 season, and give yourself the best possible chance of winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
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