Even though Fowler is an integral part of Jacksonville’s vaunted defense, he will be on the field Thursday night against the Buccaneers. The reason: Fowler is suspended for the regular-season opener at the New York Giants, so the fourth-year defensive end will get a little more work before leaving the team for a week.
Fowler welcomes the opportunity since he knows this is likely his final season in Jacksonville. He’s essentially starting his 2019 free agency pitch six months early.
“Honestly my goal this year is really just to show people that I’m a franchise player,” said Fowler, who grew up near Tampa in St. Petersburg. “I’m an elite player. I’m one of the top defensive ends, linebackers, whatever you want to call me, in this league.”
Fowler notched a career-high eight sacks last season, plus two more in the AFC championship game at New England. He averaged one sack for every 46.6 snaps played, better than Jaguars All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell (55.2) and Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue (59.4).
But Fowler’s off-field issues combined with the franchise’s belief Ngakoue is a budding star have made the fourth-year player expendable, especially since he’s a backup in the final year of his rookie contract and sure to land a starting role elsewhere.
Just not yet.
The Jaguars want one more productive year from the third overall pick in the 2015 draft out of UF.
“It’s not like I have to get double-digit sacks,” Fowler said. “When you watch me on film, even though I might be coming off the bench, they’ll be like, ‘That guy, he has a future.’ That’s all I want to do. I want to go out there and put great tape out there, being fundamentally sound, playing fast and physical, getting to the quarterback, being stout in the run game.
“I don’t want to just be known as a pass-rusher. I want to be known as a guy that’s going to get sacks and get 6-10 tackles a game. That’s just the type of player I am. So, I just want people to know that I’m known as a complete player on the field and I’m a professional and I’m a guy that cleaned up his act and left that past in the past. I’m ready to move on from that.”
Fowler’s troubles have been well documented.
He was suspended for a week during training camp following an after-practice altercation with Ngakoue. He also was arrested twice in as many years, including in 2017 for hitting a 55-year-old man. Fowler eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges. The case was closed in March, with Fowler sentenced to a year of probation and 75 hours of community service.
The NFL suspended him without pay for the opener, a one-game penalty that will cost him $214,000.
Fowler also was arrested in 2016, although those charges were eventually dropped.
Coach Doug Marrone said Fowler has been a model player since returning from the one-week suspension.
“I have had no issues with him,” Marrone said. “He has been doing a good job.”
Fowler insists he’s matured through it all, ready to focus on football and his future. He wants to be “a teddy bear off the field but a monster on the field.”
“Just want to show people that the past, them three years, my rookie year coming in and all that, that learning experience is, that chapter is over with and it’s just about being a professional, being a grown man and just being the player that I want to be,” he said. “How I want my legacy to be? That’s honestly what it is. That’s honestly what I want my goals to be this year.”