The holiday season came early for linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. this year as he had $700,000 in fines rescinded on behalf of the NFL Player’s Association. Those fines were issued by Fowler’s former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, which has traded away back-to-back top-five draft picks in Fowler (#3 overall in 2015) and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey (#5 overall in 2016). Both ex-Jaguars now play for the Los Angeles Rams and have had choice words about their time in northern Florida; as for the source of their resentment, the team’s former Executive Vice President, Tom Coughlin, is the overwhelming culprit.
Fowler’s case was brought to the NFLPA’s attention when the Jaguars asserted that the Florida native had missed 25 mandatory appointments with a team trainer last season, resulting in the aforementioned fines. However, because the appointments were made during the offseason, they were in violation of the CBA which clearly states (Article 4 section 9f), “salary may not be subject to forfeiture for missing voluntary offseason programs or voluntary minicamps…” The NFLPA also released a statement saying as much and added that the Jaguars had recently decided that they would require all injured players to get their offseason rehab at the Jaguars’ facility, however this policy did not render those rehab programs mandatory.
For his part, Fowler was rightfully animated over the news of his exoneration and let the world know on Twitter, and as it turns out he is far from the only ex-Jaguar to take issue with his former team. Jalen Ramsey, the only First-Team-All-Pro Jaguar in over a decade, loudly griped his way out of Jacksonville over similar frustrations with management, specifically Tom Coughlin, who was responsible for the fines handed down to Fowler. However, more interestingly, since the club’s 2017 AFC Championship run, more than 25% of player grievances have been filed against the Jaguars.
As for Jacksonville, while their sudden fall from the NFL canopy has been ugly, their reputation around the league has become even uglier. For one, the decision to trade two franchise players in Fowler and Ramsey has left a bad taste in the mouths of their teammates, especially given the public nature in which it unfolded. Ramsey was instrumental to that 2017 run and Fowler would lead the Jags in sacks if he were still on the team. However, though team owner Shad Kahn took steps this week to mitigate these disasters by firing Tom Coughlin, there is still widespread distrust toward the club that could hamper Jacksonville’s attractiveness in free agency.
In the wake of its victory against the Jaguars, the NFLPA sent a letter out to every player in the league notifying them of Fowler’s case and warning them of potentially signing with the team. The statement said that players, “continue to be at odds with Jaguars management over their rights under the CBA far more than any other clubs.” For the second year in a row, the team failed to win more than six games and figure to be in an even tougher spot for the upcoming season. As it stands now, the Jaguars have the third-lowest cap space to operate with for the pending offseason and have many holes to fill. Time will tell just how far back Coughlin’s policies have set the Jaguars’ timeline to contending again and how players around the league will view Jacksonville as a potential landing spot this offseason.