The NFL is a fickle sport. Some of its most talented athletes have had their careers cut short due to on-field injuries or off-the-field incidents. A look through the history of the league reveals a Hall of Fame roster of players who never got to live up to their potential for one reason or another, and a mob of angry fans chasing them away into obscurity.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise is certainly no exception, as dozens of high-profile athletes have come and gone through Tampa Bay, getting booed off the field or ripped in the press in the process. From Bo Jackson's decision to not play for the Bucs, to Steve Young's horrible performances and subsequent trade, to the injuries that kept Brian Price and countless others from seeing meaningful time on the football field, the team has had its fair share of bad luck and bad choices.
Which may be why there's such a rapid response by the media and fans to any player seen as a frustration. Mike Williams serves as the most recent example of a talented player who made his fair share of mistakes on and off the field, and combined with an injury during his last season, broke every straw on the proverbial camel's back before getting run out of town by fans and media, and subsequently the front office.
Now, that same attention has turned to Da'Quan Bowers. Once thought of as a top NFL Draft prospect, the defensive end tumbled down the board due to injury issues, and has struggled with various ailments through his whole career. Recently news of an arrest on a gun charge (which was dropped, and Bowers only paid a small fine), and involvement in the arrest of a former pop star have worked to turn the Tampa Bay area against one of the better defensive linemen the team has seen in the past few years.
So, by all accounts, Bowers has been hurt (something that was known as an issue for him since his days in college), been forgetful/ignorant of New York's gun laws (and was so cooperative that he didn't face any serious punishments), and had a famous friend go crazy on him and earn him a spot in a headline he seemingly had nothing to do with. This is enough of a reason to kick him to the curb?
According to Pro Football Focus, Bowers was the most productive Bucs defensive end last season when it came to pressuring the quarterback, earning more pressure per snap than any other end on the team. He finished second behind Michael Bennett in 2012, and was right in line with Clayborn and Bennett in 2011.
This season, he's made the shift inside to defensive tackle, and put in a great shift during the first preseason game against the Jaguars. He was disruptive and showed great pursuit and hustle in tracking down ball-carriers for tackles and stops.
He's even drawn the praise of his head coach, saying Bowers "hasn't missed a beat" since Lovie Smith and his new linemen joined forces this year. Even in articles used to signal the end of Bowers (thanks to a quote from Smith about him missing reps due to injury) was the following quote: "We've seen enough to like Da'Quan a lot."
Da'Quan Bowers is possibly the second-most talented player on the Buccaneers' defensive line, and he's certainly one of the seven-best players along the line worthy of surviving the preseason and being a part of the 53-man roster. The same could have been said about Mike Williams, however, but he was given away for pennies on the dollar to a team that seemingly plans on starting him at wide receiver.
Bowers might not have the charming smile or spotless record of a Gerald McCoy or Doug Martin, but the former Clemson star doesn't deserve the narrative being told about him at this stage in his career. He's too good of a football player to be run out of town for struggling to stay healthy in one of the world's most injury-riddled professions, and for a couple of headlines that show little to no poor decision making.
The Bucs already bailed on one talented player this offseason (Williams) after media and fans clamored for his departure, and that same player could flourish in his new surroundings. Doing the same with Bowers (who, even relative to Williams' seemingly mild offenses, is less of a "headache") would be an even bigger mistake.
If he's not healthy, the Bucs can take advantage of the NFL's many mechanisms for storing injured players on the roster for use when they're fully fit. He's done more than enough to prove that he's a talented player, and would be a valuable asset for Lovie Smith's defense once he's ready to go this season. Blaming a player for injuries in a sport defined by physical contact and violent collisions seems like a pretty foolish way to construct the ideal roster.