As the Los Angeles Rams constructed a proper and true Super Bowl contending roster, they sought to fix the minimal holes the roster did contain. That’s when they secured a midseason trade for EDGE rusher Dante Fowler Jr from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The trade cost the Rams a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
But, now it’s decision time.
Fowler is slated to hit the free agent market in a few short weeks, so it’s time for the Rams to make a decision. There have been some suggestions that a franchise tag might be in play, but I cannot see it being an option. The tag is slated to cost at least $16m ($18m if he’s designated a defensive lineman and not a linebacker) and that’s just bad business for a team that doesn’t have a ton of cap space and does have a lot of starters hitting free agency.
Fowler is a 24-year old with 16 career sacks, 18 tackles-for-loss, and 27 QB hits accumulated in his career. Fowler only managed two sacks in the eight regular season games he spent with the Rams, though he did add another 1.5 sacks in the deep playoff run that found the Rams in Super Bowl 53. Fowler graded out as an “above average” player in PFF’s grading system, ranking as the 53rd edge with a 67.3 grade. Ironically enough, that wasn’t even higher than the man he replaced in OLB Matt Longacre.
When you look at how deep the free agency market is with edge rushers, you really begin to realize that re-signing Fowler isn’t as crucial as many might think. The Rams actually didn’t even prioritize Fowler at the trade deadline as they initially sought a trade for Buffalo Bills edge Jerry Hughes, though the Bills were seeking too much compensation in return for a trade to be agreed upon.
When you compare Fowler to some of the pass rushers slated to hit free agency, you notice that his numbers are generally the worst:
Dante Fowler: 1,329 pass rush snaps, 83 pass rush snaps per sack— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) February 16, 2019
Preston Smith: 1,615 pass rush snaps, 66 pass rush snaps per sack
Shaq Barrett: 861 pass rush snaps, 62 pass rush snaps per sack
Za'Darius Smith: 1,385 pass rush snaps, 75 pass rush snaps per sack
Not only that, but there are a ton of edge rushers both young and veteran who can supply the same (if not better) presence on the edge. The list includes Shaquil Barrett, Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Ziggy Ansah, Cameron Wake, Terrell Suggs, and Brandon Graham. The reason I left off most of the elite talent like DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, and others is because I anticipate they wont reach the market.
So this begs the question, do the Rams need to re-sign Fowler? Should they overpay to retain the 24-year old’s services? Or should they set a firm price, work on a potential deal, and then seek to replace him with many viable options on the free agent market?