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Undrafted chip forever cemented on Jonathan Owens' shoulder

Fourth-year safety eyeing starting role in Packers’ deep secondary

S Jonathan Owens
S Jonathan Owens

GREEN BAY – The crossroads in Jonathan Owens' football career lay between the Arizona Cardinals' practice bubble and the nearby field where the former Missouri Western safety trained in September 2019.

One year earlier, Owens endured a nightmarish start to his NFL career. After getting his foot in the door with the Cardinals as a college free agent, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound safety tore his anterior cruciate ligament during organized team activities. His rookie season was over before it even began.

Owens worked his way back to make a run at a roster spot the following summer but was informed the day after Arizona's final preseason game that he was being cut. At that point, Owens had a decision to make.

Does he keep training in hope of another NFL opportunity, or call it a career?

"I knew it was what I was supposed to do," Owens said. "I'm not going to say I couldn't see myself doing anything else, but I felt this is really what God wanted me to do. I was here to play football and I knew I was good enough to play."

Owens didn't just keep working. He stayed in Arizona, training in the desert heat across the street from the Cardinals' practice facility. No fancy equipment or uniforms – just a small speaker, a jug of water and a dream.

Owens was occasionally kicked off the field by amateur soccer teams. On other days, he'd work out alone while watching his former Cardinals teammates exit the facility. All for an opportunity that might never come.

Finally, after three weeks, Owens received a call from Houston for a workout. It was the first domino in a series of life-changing events that ultimately led Owens to the Packers this offseason.

"It was just about being patient and waiting for that opportunity and Houston gave me that opportunity on practice squad," Owens said. "I was overjoyed to have that opportunity … and I'm still here, man, fighting. It was all part of the journey."

In three years, Owens went from the Texans' practice squad to a 17-game starter. In his second NFL start, Owens caught his first interception off Justin Herbert in the first NFL game his mom, Arthurine, ever attended.

Seated alongside her was Owens' then fiancé, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, whom he met in Houston. In fact, a week before Owens signed with the Packers in May, the couple had a destination wedding with close family and friends in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

A seven-time Olympic medalist, Biles has actively supported her husband on social media since the day Owens signed with Green Bay. The couple even spent Memorial Day weekend in nearby Door County with his new teammates Jordan Love, AJ Dillon, Christian Watson, and Josiah Deguara.

While Owens has never been short on motivation, Biles' successes have served as inspiration for his own NFL career. He was competing for a spot on the Texans' roster in 2021 when Biles won the 2021 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, the seventh national title of her legendary career.

"She brings the best out of me," Owens said. "Just watching her and how she worked every day going into the Olympics – her focus and her drive – it just makes you want to get up and do something because your partner is doing that."

This summer, Owens is one of five veteran safeties competing to start alongside Darnell Savage in the Packers' secondary. He comes to Green Bay on the heels of a career year with the Texans in which he recorded 125 tackles, four passes defensed and a sack.

Owens took pride in his 2022 campaign, which saw the fourth-year veteran play nearly three times as many defensive snaps (960) as he did on defense and special teams combined (361) during his first three seasons in Houston.

"He's very eager. He obviously has some skill," said Packers secondary coach Ryan Downard of Owens. "He's had a long journey, but he's a good football mind who's been in the league for some years and his best attribute, at least off of tape and in the past, was his ability to tackle. That was (where) I had him graded out the highest."

Owens doesn't take this opportunity lightly. Competing with veterans Rudy Ford, Tarvarius Moore, Innis Gaines and Dallin Leavitt, the 27-year-old safety knows how high the stakes will be when the team returns for training camp next month.

Still as hungry as ever, Owens says the overlooked chip remains cemented on his shoulder. It'll stay there until the day he stops playing.

"I'm undrafted, man. I take that with me everywhere I go," Owens said. "If anyone in the NFL knows, when you say you're undrafted, it's always a respect thing. I went to a Division II school right out of high school. I always carried a chip on my shoulder."

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