Now that Rich Cimini has brought it up, will the possibility of the Jaguars trading Dante Fowler, Jr. become a reality?
As I talked about in a story on Monday, Cimini, who covers the New York Jets for ESPN.com, suggested that the team from the Big Apple attempt to acquire a pass rusher, with both Fowler and Shane Ray of the Denver Broncos the focus of a trade involving Teddy Bridgewater.
There are many reasons why this kind of deal makes sense for the Jets. Given that Fowler was told by the Jaguars that they were not picking up his fifth-year option, this is essentially a “make or break” season for the former 2015 first-round draft pick.
Fowler is playing under the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, that will pay him roughly $3.6 million for 2018. Had the Jaguars decided to pick up the fifth-year of the rookie deal, they would be on the hook for $14.2 million. That warrants the kind of productivity of a player he has not been so far.
How Fowler responds this season, knowing he may not be part of the team that brought him to the NFL next season, will determine what the Jaguars decide to do during the 2019 off-season.
While I see the reasoning behind Cimini’s proposal of trading the two NFL players straight up, something like this creates more complications for the Jaguars than it helps them.
Bridgewater signed a deal on the off-season with the Jets that will pay him $6 million for the 2018 season. As discussed in my previous story, the Jets drafted Sam Darnold with the third pick in this year’s draft. Ultimately, New York brass would like the rookie to win the job outright. Bridgewater, who had a devastating knee injury that first him to miss the 2016 season and part of the 2017 season, it’s still a health risk.
That alone would create a red flag for the Jaguars organization in my mind. The next issue this team would face would be dealing with scrutiny related to their incumbent starter, Blake Bortles.
After his stellar performance in the 2017 playoffs, Jacksonville inked the fifth-year starter to a three-year, $54 million deal. The move is cap friendly. Bortles understood the importance of remaining with the team, but not breaking the bank. The deal made it possible for the team to pursue free agents, and help bring in somebody like left guard Andrew Norwell, who should help with the running game and continue to improve pass protection.
It’s hard to argue the reasoning behind the deal general manager Dave Caldwell worked out with their quarterback’s agent. Both sides won and the team’s core remains part of the 2018 roster.
Bortles and the Jaguars were less than 10 minutes away from making it to the first Super Bowl with No. 5 under center. While he was still erratic at times, he showed improvement last year. I know this is a broken record, something that we’ve discussed over and over again. But Bortles has a love-hate relationship with the fan base here in Jacksonville. When he is on his game, they love him. When he makes a mistake, they want to run him out of town. And despite everything this team accomplished last year, one mistake will have everybody clamoring, including the national media, for Bridgewater to step in and ruin continuity.
The Jaguars are built to win now and are laying the groundwork for the future with the most recent draft classes. I can’t see how something like this, a trade involving Bridgewater, doesn’t disrupt the blueprint that Caldwell, head coach Doug Marrone, and Executive Vice-President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin have devised.
Bortles and Bridgewater were part of the 2014 draft class. At first, it looked like Bridgewater would be a savior for the Minnesota Vikings and their future. But injuries have set back any hope of him being the class of this class. Bortles has proven that no matter how much criticism he takes from different angles, he still gets up off the mat and continues to fight.
Like Fowler, this is going to be an important season for both defensive end and quarterback.
Fowler is playing for his next big NFL payday. While the team has not gotten the productivity out of the University of Florida star they had hoped for, it doesn’t mean he isn’t an important part of this defensive rotation. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue get the attention for their play, but Fowler’s eight sacks last year and two in the playoffs were vital in helping this team to its first playoff berth in 10 years.
The Jaguars should stand pat. Any talk of trading Fowler at this point won’t solve anything and may actually hurt this team’s development. Besides that, Fowler may play with a chip on his shoulder this year. That could mean better play and career statistics. The Jaguars would be foolish to send him somewhere right now where they lose that productivity.
If Fowler and the Jaguars cannot agree to a longer-term deal next off-season, he could be “franchised”, or the team could work out a one-year deal while trying to negotiate something longer-term.
Keeping him in black and teal for this season makes the most sense, regardless of a deal Cimini proposes that may or may not help both teams.