The Jacksonville Jaguars declined the 2019 fifth-year option on defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. on Wednesday.
While some fans may think a decision like that means the team is ready to move on from the player, that is not the case. Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin made it clear Jacksonville would be interested in a long-term deal, via Jaguars director of public relations Tad Dickman:
Fowler, 23, began living up to his potential in 2017 after being the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 draft, posting 21 tackles, eight sacks, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus gave him just a grade of 53.1 for the season, however, 93rd among edge defenders.
But after Fowler missed his entire rookie season with an ACL tear and posted just four sacks in 2016, his 2017 campaign was a step in the right direction. He showcased his impressive upside in the 24-20 defeat to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in January, when he sacked Tom Brady twice.
Still, he finds himself out of a starting role heading into 2018, with Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell—both Pro Bowlers last season—ahead of him on the depth chart. Campbell turns 32 in September, however, and won't be able to maintain his elite level forever.
That makes Fowler and Ngakoue potentially the future of the position for the Jaguars.
Fowler isn't without his concerns, though. He has never become the elite player the Jaguars thought they were drafting, and he's had a number of off-field and legal incidents in his career, a situation the team is surely monitoring.
So Fowler has one more season to prove he's an important piece for Jacksonville moving forward. If he continues to improve, the young and elite Jaguars defense could be downright horrifying for years to come.