An infusion of talent is needed this offseason, particularly on the edges of the front seven. Before bringing in new faces, the Falcons also need to ditch those pass-rushers who’ve failed to generate heat.
The process has already started in earnest after the Falcons dumped last season’s team sack leader on Wednesday, February 16. This outside linebacker consistently underperformed during two seasons in Atlanta, offering little return on the lucrative three-year contract he signed in 2020.
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7.5 Sacks in 2 Seasons Wasn’t Enough
The Falcons parted ways with Dante Fowler Jr. on Wednesday, per team reporter Tori McElhaney. She noted how Fowler struggled so much during his first year in Atlanta he took a pay cut before the 2021 season: “The Falcons lowered his cap hit from $18.5 million to $10.6 million with a $6 million base salary guaranteed which was lowered from the original $13 million base salary he was set to receive. His 2022 year was also considered a void year after everything was settled.”
The decision was taken after Fowler recorded a mere three sacks in 2020. It was hardly what the Falcons expected after handing him a three-year deal worth $45 million to leave the Los Angeles Rams.
General manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith didn’t sign Fowler and soon tweaked his terms. He had the chance to recoup some money based on his sack totals, per McElhaney, but Fowler ultimately fell short of qualifying for even the smallest bonus.
The 27-year-old notched just 4.5 sacks. It was good enough to lead the team, but not sufficient for Fowler to make $1 million. He needed five sacks for that reward.
Coming up short was a common theme during Fowler’s disappointing two-year tenure. He was expected to lead the pass rush but was ultimately outplayed by a rookie last season, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic:
Kendall’s fellow Athletic writer Jeff Schultz felt like the deal was destined to fail. Schultz pointed out how Fowler’s 2019 numbers were inflated by the talent around him on the Rams’ defensive front:
Not many had sympathy for Fowler, but there’s no doubt injuries played a part in the player’s struggles. He started just six games last year due to a myriad of problems, including a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Whatever the reason for Fowler’s issues, the Falcons are now ready to look for a new and more competent edge-rusher.
Falcons Have More Cap Room for Pass-Rusher Search
Releasing Fowler has reduced the amount the Falcons are over the salary cap. The figure is now $1,923,598, according to Spotrac.com.
There’s more room under the cap, but the Falcons are still on the hook for a tidy sum:
It means the draft remains the most likely place where Fontenot will find reinforcements able to get after quarterbacks. Fortunately, there are no shortage of options in this year’s class.
Two good fits have been identified by Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus. He named Purdue’s George Karlaftis as a good choice with the eighth-overall pick, while Tyreke Smith of Ohio State represents great value for the Falcons in the later rounds.
Going the draft route for pass-rush help will help the Falcons avoid the kind of expensive mistake they made with Fowler.