With NFL free agency set to begin, let’s take a look at Los Angeles Rams’ pass rusher Dante Fowler. Fowler was the third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected him in the hopes that he could apply pressure from the edge on opposing AFC quarterbacks. However, Fowler never quite lived up to the hype in Jacksonville.
Fowler’s potential outweighs rough start to career
An ACL tear on his first day of rookie minicamp derailed the start of his NFL career. Fowler also had off-the-field issues that only made things worse for the former Florida Gator. Fowler totaled 62 tackles and 14 sacks in his first three seasons. The Jaguars became uninterested in keeping Fowler. The Rams, in desperate need of an edge presence in Wade Phillips’s defense, made too much sense. They wanted someone who could add some juice off the edge and pulled the trigger in a trade with Jacksonville.
The Rams opted to trade a 2019 3rd round pick and a 2020 5th round pick in order to acquire Fowler. Fowler took time getting up to speed in L.A. but he did provide some much needed help on defense. He made some key plays throughout the playoffs allowing the Rams a chance to compete in their first Super Bowl since 2002. Making strides as the season wore on, he played an integral role in the Rams postseason success. Fowler fits well in the Rams locker room and enjoys playing in Los Angeles. Familiarity and team fit definitely matters during contract negotiations. The fact is Fowler makes perfect sense for the Rams to prioritize.
Rams want Fowler back, must remain mindful of cap space
We need to be realistic, even average edge rushers will be paid in the pass-happy NFL. Edge rushers who excel during the playoffs and are 24 years old will always be expensive. While Fowler may not be the most productive, he is the youngest edge rusher in a group of solid free agents at that position. The former third overall pick isn’t elite like Von Miller. However, many will see the elite traits and untapped potential he showed as a college prospect. Teams will think they can reach that potential and pay a high price for it.
What exactly does all of this mean? It means that the Rams likely have some competition for Fowler’s services when Free Agency opens up on March 13th, 2019. The Rams have stated they won’t use the franchise tag this year. With reports that the Rams will allow Fowler to test the market it is likely that a team desperate to add some defensive talent is willing to overpay for his services. The New York Jets have been linked to Fowler for the last two years. They almost pulled the trigger on Fowler at the trade deadline last season. The Jets have the second most cap space of any NFL team and will be looking for help on their defense. Even though Fowler loved his time in L.A. we know that money talks.
Fowler is priority among Rams free agents
Les Snead describes Fowler as the Rams’ “biggest priority” and the Rams came away impressed by Fowler’s work ethic. The team is labeling him as a hard worker who played his best in the Rams’ biggest moments. The Rams are also aware of Fowler’s fit within the defense and believe he will be even better. These could be motivating factors in the Rams’ pursuit of a contract extension with the young edge rusher.
The truth is that without Fowler on the roster, the Rams will again be searching desperately for another edge presence to take pressure off of Aaron Donald. Rest assured that if the value is there, the Rams will re-sign Fowler. However, the Rams have also been good recently at setting a value on their own free agents and refusing to overpay during contract negotiations. The best teams avoid massively overpaying free agents as it rarely works the way fans think it should.
Ideal situation for Fowler and the Rams
Personally, I see Fowler being worth $11 to $12 million per year on the open market. His production and age add to his value but he hasn’t quite earned a contract the size of an elite pass rusher, though the potential is definitely there. Signing a 4-year deal worth $44 to $48 million would be ideal. That puts him in the same bracket as guys like Nick Perry, Ryan Kerrigan and Cameron Jordan. A deal such as this would provide fair market value to Fowler, while not pricing him out of the Rams’ wallet and would give him another opportunity to cash in on another big deal at the age of 28.
My feeling is that if a deal like this is around, Fowler and the Rams enter a happy marriage. However, if Fowler values himself at a higher price point around $13 million or more, I believe the Rams would be best served to move on and enjoy the compensatory pick they’d get in the 2020 NFL Draft. No sense in getting into a bidding war with Fowler despite his talent.
Contingency plans in place if Fowler prices himself out of L.A.
There are plenty of edge rushers in free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft that will be cheaper. Fowler scored a 10.1 pass rush score in his career thus far. For reference, Von Miller scores a 6.2. Fowler sits in tier two of edge rushers. Similar players in free agency include; Preston Smith (9.8), Shaquil Barrett (8.2), Shane Ray (9.5), Ezekiel Ansah (7.5), Trey Flowers (8.2) and Za’Darius Smith (9.6). The contracts these players get on the open market will vary greatly, but they are all potential options for the Rams and other teams.
The Rams clearly would love to have Fowler back. If the two can’t find a happy medium then a team with lots of cap space will pounce on Fowler. The Rams still have a lot of options to bolster the defense once again if needed. Hopefully it works out between Fowler and the Rams. The young pass rusher shows a lot of potential and promise still. He could be valuable in a another postseason run. Another year with the Rams and he has a good shot at a Lombardi Trophy.