GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Jonathan Owens is showing he can tackle major life changes as adroitly as he brings down opposing ball carriers.
The 27-year-old safety had little time to celebrate his destination wedding to Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles before beginning the next chapter of his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers.
Negotiations with the Packers had already started by the time Owens and Biles arrived in Mexico. Less than a week after they exchanged vows at Cabo San Lucas, they arrived in Green Bay, with Biles sharing the news of her husband’s signing to her 6.8 million Instagram followers.
“It was just like the perfect wedding gift, I guess you could say,” said Owens, who turns 28 on July 22. “As soon as we got back from our short honeymoon, I came right here. Had to get to work.”
Owens wanted to jump right into the Packers’ wide-open safety competition as he attempts to build on a breakthrough season. His long road to Green Bay has shown he knows how to make the most of an opportunity.
He signed with the Arizona Cardinals five years ago as an undrafted free agent from Missouri Western but tore his anterior cruciate ligament that summer. Owens was on injured reserve the entire 2018 season and got cut the following year. Owens joined the Houston Texans in 2019 and played a total of 14 games the next three seasons.
His big chance came late in 2021 when a concussion sidelined Justin Reid for a December game with Jacksonville and he made his first career start. When COVID-19 concerns decimated Houston’s depth chart the following week, Owens got another start and intercepted a Justin Herbert pass in a 41-29 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
“That was the moment that really changed my life and let me know I belonged,” Owens said. “After that point, it was just confidence and just playing with that confidence. When you know that you’re somewhere you’re supposed to be, you carry yourself differently.”
Owens started all 17 games for the Texans last season and showcased his tackling ability by making 125 stops.
“That was my biggest focus point with myself, was I want to be considered one of the best tacklers in the NFL and I want that to be my niche,” he said. “Obviously, ball skills will be a thing, where I didn’t have any interceptions last year, but they can’t say I didn’t come and tackle.”
The Texans allowed him to leave via free agency, and he remained unsigned until May. But he walks into an ideal situation.
Green Bay needs someone to start alongside Darnell Savage at safety with free agent Adrian Amos unlikely to return. Owens has the most career starts (19) of any other safety on the roster, setting him apart from a crowded list of candidates that includes Rudy Ford, Innis Gaines, Tarvarius Moore, Dallin Leavitt, Tariq Carpenter and rookie seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson Jr.
“He’s got that experience,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “He’s got a great attitude. I think he enjoys it here. And it’s a competitive situation right now with that room.”
Owens’ indirect route from a Division II program to the Packers shows he knows how to compete. He says his wife’s example helped.
Although he says he wasn’t familiar with Biles’ athletic achievements when they first met, Owens learned soon enough as he witnessed the tenacity that helped make her a seven-time Olympic medalist.
That’s all the motivation Owens has needed to bring out the best in his own game.
“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,” Owens said.
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Green Bay Packers helmets lay on the ground during a practice session at their NFL minicamp Wednesday, June 13, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)