Could the Atlanta Falcons cut Dante Fowler this offseason?

Dante Fowler hasn't made the impact that the Atlanta Falcons hoped for Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dante Fowler hasn't made the impact that the Atlanta Falcons hoped for Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Falcons should already be looking to get rid of Dante Fowler.

It may have only been 11 games, but the Dante Fowler signing by the Atlanta Falcons already looks like a mistake.

Players have always been overpaid in free agency – it’s a market that sees teams competing against each other, and the best way to convince somebody to join is often to give them as much money as possible.

Fowler’s career has been a rollercoaster. He was drafted third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2015 NFL Draft, and the expectation was that he’d develop into a dominant pass rusher. Unfortunately for Fowler, he tore his ACL on the first day of mini-camp and was ruled out for his entire rookie season.

In his first season playing, he registered four sacks in 16 games. In 2017, he had eight sacks in the regular season and two more in the postseason as the Jaguars made the AFC Championship. In 2018 he had two before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams and another two once he arrived, while also playing a big part in the defense that harassed Drew Brees in the NFC Championship game.

2019 was comfortably Dante Fowler’s best year as he compiled 11.5 sacks, the 10th highest number in the league. The Falcons clearly liked what they saw and offered him a three-year, $45 million deal. The $15 million average makes him the 14th highest-paid defensive end in the league.

Soon after signing, Fowler stated his intention to break Michael Strahan’s sack record of 22.5, but his odds of doing that look only narrowly shorter than they would be for this 30-year-old writer who has never stepped on the field. Fans would take 22.5 sacks for his Falcons career at this point.

Signing players to big years after they’ve had the best season of their career doesn’t often work out, and Fowler looks to have reverted back to the player he has been for much of his career. He has just two sacks in 11 games and a Pro Football Focus grade of 53. PFF grades are subjective, and stats don’t always tell the story, as we saw with Vic Beasley leading the league in sacks in 2016, but both stats and grades are rarely misleading.

Dante Fowler’s Contract

The Falcons are paying Fowler to be a double-digit sack player every year, and that never looked likely to happen. His best season was when he played alongside Aaron Donald with Wade Phillips calling the plays.

His second-best season came when he was on the same defensive line as Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malik Jackson, all of whom out-produced him. The Falcons defensive line, largely thanks to Grady Jarrett, isn’t the disaster that it’s been in the past, but Fowler continues to look like a complementary piece.

The Falcons had similar when they signed Osi Umenyiora, who had been part of a dominant New York Giants offensive line – some players just need more help to produce than others.

Fowler’s contract makes cutting him difficult, but it certainly isn’t impossible. If the Falcons designate him as a Post-June 1st cut, then dead money would mean he’d still count almost $10.7 million against the cap in 2021.

The team would make cap savings of $8 million, though, which could be useful given how little space they have and the need to make tough roster decisions.

Ideally, the team would be able to get something in a trade, but another team taking on his contract seems unlikely. Whether Fowler is a Falcon in 2021 or not, his chances of being on the team in 2022 are slim, with the team able to save $15 million by cutting him.

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