No player in the training camp of 2006 was more unlikely to make the Jaguars' final roster than Montell Owens was. He was undrafted and seemingly unappreciated when he was moved from running back to safety for no other reason than the Jaguars lacked bodies at that position. Owens appeared to be, in the vernacular, training camp fodder.
Then something happened. They started to play the preseason games and Owens put on a special teams display that shot his stock upward. Three years later, it is still on the rise.
The guy who appeared to have no chance to make the Jaguars roster signed a four-year contract recently. Interestingly, the Jaguars could've simply tendered Owens as a restricted free agent and because 2010 is an uncapped year, they might've been able to do the same thing two years in a row. That the Jaguars didn't employ that strategy says everything about the regard they have for Owens now.
"They may value me but I value them. I made a commitment. I want to win a championship," Owens told jaguars.com on Monday. "I started my career here and I want to win a championship. Money is not the reason we play. The reason is the love of the game."
Owens signed a one-year contract last spring and then turned in arguably the best special teams performance of any player in Jaguars history. His 41-yard touchdown run on a fake-punt against Houston was the turning point in that win. He also recovered a fumbled kickoff and returned it for a touchdown against the Bengals. By season's end, his overall performance earned him notice by Peter King of "Sports Illustrated" as King's All-Pro special teams player. Owens was also named to "USA Today's" All-Joe team.
"I love special teams. The same philosophy I came in with my rookie year; nothing has changed," Owens said.
He embraces his role. Other players long to be starters on offense or defense. Owens wants to be the best special teams player he can be, which is exactly what he has been for three years; so good that former Jaguars special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis praised Owens as "special" and a prospective "Pro-Bowl" player before the rest of the league had taken note of the special talents of the former Maine Bear.
Because Owens came to the Jaguars as an undrafted player, tendering him in restricted free agency would've introduced an element of risk. At the low tender, a team could've signed Owens without having to compensate the Jaguars, though the Jaguars would've had the right to match the offer and retain Owens. At the next tender level, the Jaguars would've received a second-round draft pick had they elected not to match an offer. The Jaguars probably would've had to use the second tender level to discourage suitors.
"That wasn't in the forefront of my thinking. I'm a day by day guy. I wasn't thinking of a contract. I was just thinking of winning a ballgame. It became part of my thinking when they offered me a contract. It was perfect timing," Owens said.
"You can tell the difference in the guys whose hearts lie with the cash and the guys whose hearts lie with the game. I believe it all starts with leadership. It all has to start with this offseason. Jack (Del Rio) was really making a point that he wants everyone here. You can't build chemistry on the fly," Owens added.