After racking up 11.5 sacks in 2019 with the Rams in a contract year, Dante Fowler Jr. was in line for a healthy long-term deal from somebody. The Falcons quickly pinpointed him as their guy to replace Vic Beasley, and on March 24th, they finalized a three-year, $48 million contract with the former #3 overall pick.
There were many reasons for Falcons fans to be excited about this deal. First and foremost, they were finally moving on from Vic Beasley, whose lack of effort and production really rubbed the fanbase the wrong way. Like Beasley, Fowler was a physical specimen, unlike Beasley; however, Fowler loves football’s physical aspect. That’s something Dan Quinn — who coached Fowler when he was at Florida — immediately raved about once the signing became official. Fowler’s production was also consistently trending upward.
Every season, it seemed like Fowler got a little bit better, which culminated with his performance last year in which he racked up 58 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 16 TFL, and 16 QB hits — all career-highs. However, while I was never worried about Fowler being an upgrade over Beasley, I was concerned that last season was more of a flash in the pan rather than something he would produce every year, and so far in 2020, that has proven to be the case.
Fowler provided a spark initially, recording 0.5 sacks in each of the first two games. Unfortunately, he’s done next to nothing since. Over his last five games, he has zero sacks, a handful of tackles, and only four QB hits (three of which came in one game against the Panthers). I don’t like to throw around the bust word this early in someone’s Atlanta career, but for $16 million annually, he hasn’t provided nearly enough production, and his contract only looks worse going forward.
Of course, sacks aren’t always determinative of a player’s production. Pressures are also important. Still, it’s looking like Atlanta paid for Los Angeles Dante Fowler, and they’re currently getting Jacksonville Dante Fowler.
All this talk of pass-rushers, sacks and pressures on the TL…
Dante Fowler's pressure rates per PFF:
Again, y'all need to pay more attention to pressures since they're more predictive of future outcomes than sacks
— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) October 22, 2020
Like most NFL deals, the Falcons were able to backload Fowler’s contract, so they are only paying him $6.66 million this season. That might even be an overpay for what he has provided the team thus far, but the $18.66 million they owe him in 2021 should make everybody in the organization’s stomach churn. The Falcons can cut him in 2022 when they are scheduled to pay him $19.66 million, but they would still have to eat $4.66 million. As of now, that almost seems like a foregone conclusion. Unless Fowler turns things around substantially, there is no way he is on the roster in 2022, especially with a new regime taking over.
It is decisions like these that ultimately led to the dismissal of Thomas Dimitroff. There were things that TD was good at, but his inability to bring in quality pass rushers — both through free agency and the draft — never gave the secondary a fair chance to succeed. Now, they will be severely handicapped by their cap situation this offseason, with no choice but to pay Dante Fowler Jr. $19 million. Perhaps a new regime can bring out the best of Fowler’s abilities, but this is beginning to look like the worst offseason signing since Ray Edwards, and it is one the Falcons will regret even more moving forward.
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