NFL: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE DANTE FOWLER INJURY
The Jacksonville Jaguars progression from the basement of the NFL took a severe blow last Friday, when their first round draft pick (3rd overall) Dante Fowler Jr. tore his ACL only an hour into mini-camp. The former Florida Gator had yet to sign the $23.5 million contract that the Jaguars had tendered to him bringing into focus so much more than another football player dealing with a season ending injury. There are several implications with this situation, and though some have been put to rest you can’t help but to think about what we can take away from all of this and the ripple effect it will have on the negotiation process moving forward.
Before Fowler took the field he was offered the contract but neglected to sign it and we may never be able to understand why in hindsight of the events that took place. Fowler has been regarded as not only a top of the line athletically gifted physical specimen on the field, but someone who has an explosive personality with plus leadership qualities off the field as well. It’s almost certain that Fowler wanted to make a good first impression in an attempt to win over teammates by taking the field regardless of whether or not the contract was signed. Since Fowler had nothing to gain other than the approval of teammates one could conclude that this was an admirable career move that speaks to Fowler’s attitude towards his team as a whole.
The stickiness of negotiations is ever present in every facet of life whether you’re buying a house, buying an old coffee maker at a yard sale or negotiating your salary. Both sides inevitably feel a tremendous amount of pressure, as the more time that passes before a deal is agreed upon the more ugly the situation can get. Players have pressure to sign because they are part of a team, and that team’s success depends on having good quality bodies at practice so that the team can learn a system together. With every practice a rookie misses the learning curve gets that much bigger and failure to sign can set both the player and the team back. The team can have 5-11 draft picks to sign in a given season and its in their best interests to have every drafted rookie under contract before mini-camps commence. The team is investing a lot into these player and the franchise wants nothing more than to be regarded as a fair and even generous entity that treats new player respectfully by offering them what they deserve according to what the market dictates. The team suffers immensely when it fails to sign important players and they are not on the field practicing. NFL teams seem to have had their proverbial ducks in a row this season offering contracts to all first and second round picks before camp started.
So where does this leave Fowler, who tore his ACL in the first hour of camp without signing the contract? Seemingly it could leave him up the creek and with absolutely no negotiating power to secure what he had rightfully earned and been offered just days before by the Jaguars. As if the injury wasn’t bad enough as his cleat got stuck in the turf during a simple 11-on-11 drill and his knee buckled under him. Everyone held their collective breath as the first year player rolled around in visible pain and the questions mounted – what’s the diagnosis? What does this mean for Jaguars season? And is this kid who was being either loyal or foolish or both going to be compensated fairly?
This story ends well as Fowler did sign an injury protection waiver that guaranteed the Jaguars would negotiate in good faith. That didn’t mean he’d get max money, after all he is now damaged goods. Props to the Jaguars for doing the honorable thing, maintaining a positive image and taking the risk in extending a four year $23.5 million contract with $15.3 million guaranteed which Fowler promptly signed likely from the MRI room. That’s $255,000 per minute of practice and $4,250 per second which seems like a pretty good haul if you took away the fact Fowler will have a lot of rehab work and ultimately won’t step on the field for another 16 months – likely the longest stretch of his life. As great as Jags owner Shad Khan and Coach Gus Bradley have been through this process this will serve as a valuable lesson for all rookies thinking about taking the field before their contract is signed. Agents everywhere breathe a sigh of relief that this wasn’t their client, but no one is going to blame them for protecting the best interests of their clients in the future, and yes they are also thinking about themselves and the commission they get from a multi-million dollar contract.
So where does this leave the Jaguars who have had way more bad seasons than good seasons? Unfortunately they are only slightly improved from last year as they have added pieces on both sides of the ball that will contribute right away. Although they were counting on Fowler to make an impact early and will suffer on the field the Jacksonville Jaguars have won off the field and that at the end of the day that will position them for greater success in the future.