Players such as Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser are the main reasons general managers prefer not to cut early-round draft picks until they’ve played three or four years in the National Football League.
The time frame gives them ample time to develop or play themselves out. Bowser, in his fourth season, appears on his way to earning a new, lucrative contract. He may not re-sign with the Ravens, but some team will ante up the big bucks.
He hasn’t had a breakout season, but a breakthrough. As a reserve playing behind Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee and Yannick Ngakoue, Bowser has 25 tackles and is tied with cornerback Marcus Peters for the team lead in interceptions with three. He also has 12 hits on opposing quarterbacks.
Bower signed a contract worth about $5.6 million as a rookie and will become a free agent after this season. Can you say cha-ching?
“As a player, I can’t say I haven’t thought about it, but you just let things happen and it will take care of itself,” Bowser, 25, said. “I haven’t spoken to anyone about a contract. All I am concerned about right now is making plays and helping our teams win games and get to the playoffs.”
Bowser, a second-round pick out of Houston in 2017, has had one interception in three of the past four games. The one Monday night was a beauty and epitomizes his athletic ability. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield was unaware that Bowser had dropped into coverage and tried to force a pass to receiver Rashard Higgins.
Bowser just didn’t catch the ball, he snagged it with one hand, tucked it while rolling to the ground, got back up and ran 17 yards to the Browns 1-yard line. It set up a touchdown run by J.K. Dobbins on the next play as the Ravens took a 34-20 lead with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
“All the work he’s put in, you’re seeing it come to fruition in his fourth year,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale. “I’m happy for Tyus, and he just executes the defense. He’s been in three years now and he’s really confident with how he’s playing, and you can see that. So, he’s been very productive for us.”
What’s strange is that Bowser has been in on about one third of the opposition’s passing downs against the Ravens. With cornerbacks such as Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Peters on the roster, it would seem like a lot of teams would go after Bowser, or the Ravens might opt to not have him drop so much in coverage.
But Bowser has proved he can cover or rush the passer.
“I think with Tyus and Matt, we’ve talked about in this package before, that this is a positionless defense; we’re going to put the best 11 out there,” Martindale said. “They’re asked to do a lot of different things and several different packages. The value they have is they’re tough, they’re smart and they’re athletic. You saw that with Tyus on that interception, and you’ve seen it before with Matt as well.
“So, those guys do a nice job of getting everybody lined up where they need to be lined up, and executing the defense, first of all,” Martindale said. “You’re seeing Tyus here lately just starting to reap the benefits of becoming the complete player that he has been, and he’s been playing really well.”
Bowser has always had potential. On the first day he arrived in Baltimore as a rookie his body was so well chiseled that his skin looked like it was on too tight. There were flashes of great play in his first two seasons but longer periods of inconsistency that were hard to explain because Bowser had played a similar role in college at Houston.
“There was much more communication here because you’re dealing with coverages, blitzes and so much transition,” Bowser said.
Bowser started to come on at the end of last season when he finished with 23 tackles, including five sacks. When he reported to training camp this summer, he looked like he had added even more muscle to his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame.
He didn’t come with any expectations except to compete and make some plays, but he wanted to be versatile.
“I was just out there trying to get some snaps, some turnovers, do the important things to help us win games,” Bowser said. “But things always change, especially with COVID. I was prepared to switch up, adjust and do whatever.”
The Ravens didn’t trade for Ngakoue until midseason and the virus forced both McPhee and Judon to miss playing time. Bowser can play on the strong or weakside, and his ability to cover came from his days of playing basketball in high school and later for two years at Houston. One of the players he played against was Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who also attended high school in Texas.
“We still talk about that and he was a very good basketball player,” said Bowser, who was a shooting guard. “We still work out and see each other. With basketball, it has helped me to move my feet, and keep people in front of me like a tight end or running back. Those twitch-reflex moves has helped me with my pass rush.”
Bowser also got a lot of help from his teammates. Because Judon played on the strong side they had a professional bond that has become more personal. Because McPhee has played in Chicago and Washington, Bowser quizzes him about league issues and how other teams might have a different perspective and approach.
Bowser also spent one year playing behind Pro Bowl and potential Hall of Fame outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
“With Suggs, he had been around a lot, had done and accomplished a lot,” Bowse said. “You saw the fun, goofy side on him, but then you would see the serious side where he was really dialed in. That was a totally different Suggs.”
A new Bowser might be ready to emerge. He has a strong work ethic and is committed to the team concept. He is a home body but does like to frequent restaurants. A quiet demeanor fits his personality as being a giver to a lot of local charities and back home in Texas.
The second contract is often the best for NFL players, and it appears Bowser has earned another one.
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“Respect him — he can rush and he can cover,” Judon said. “He does both, and he’s an extremely hard worker.”