The Falcons, who can’t announce the deal because of NFL regulations, agreed in principle to a three-year, $48 million deal with defensive end Dante Fowler on Wednesday.
Fowler had 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams last season and has 27.5 sacks over 63 career games. He will reunite with Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who helped recruit Fowler to play college football at Florida.
The Falcons let defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley leave in free agency and he signed with Tennessee.
After being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Beasley played more than 3,000 snaps for the Falcons over five seasons and had 37.5 sacks and 11 forced fumbles.
» MORE: Desmond Trufant signs with Detroit
Fowler, 25, is a replacement for Beasley.
The Falcons finished with 28 sacks last season, which was tied for 31st (out of 32 teams) in the league. Only Miami (23) had fewer sacks. Pittsburgh led the league with 54 sacks.
Fowler, who’s 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, will be with his third NFL team and comes with some baggage.
“Buyer beware, here,” former NFL executive Charley Casserly said on NFL Network. “Here’s the thing, I don’t think the guy has ever put it together on a consistent basis over his career.”
Fowler is coming off a strong contract year.
“Now, this year I saw a lot of positive things in the games I watched,” Casserly said. “I saw pass rush from the outside. I saw the ability to set the edge and play the run, which he did not do (in 2018). So, the potential is there. But to me, it’s buyer beware.”
Fowler, who was drafted No. 3 overall by Jacksonville in the same draft as Beasley, was traded by the Jaguars to the Rams in 2018.
“On talent, he’s got more rush ability than Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith as an outside rusher, but he has not been as consistent as you’d like him to be for a top pick,” Casserly said. “If he was that consistent, he would still be in Jacksonville.”
Preston Smith, of Stone Mountain and Mississippi State, was a second-round pick in the 2015 draft and had 12 sacks with Green Bay last season. Za’Darius Smith was a fourth round pick out of Kentucky in 2015. He had 13.5 sacks with the Packers last season.
Fowler was projected to be worth a four-year, $59.2 million deal or an average of $14.8 million per year, according to salary cap website spotac.com. He's getting $16 million per year from the Falcons.
“Pass rush, off the edge, that’s vital for them,” said NFL Network analyst Charles Davis. “That’s important. Consistent pass rush pressure. I think that’s a big thing that he can provide. Now, it’s up to Takk (McKinley) to continue to progress that way. Beasley is at Tennessee and they never got the consistency out of him.”
Beasley led the Falcons with eight sacks last season.
Fowler missed his first season after suffering a season-ending injury shortly after the draft. He has improved since the bumpy start to his career in Jacksonville, which included getting suspended after fighting a teammate.
“That’s a heck of a way to enter the NFL,” Davis said. “ You go from the high of being drafted to coming in and being lauded as the guy that’s going to help us be better, then bam, you’re hurt.”
Fowler battled back.
“That’s not an easy thing,” Davis said. “Now, he’s back. I think he’s gotten better and better over time.”
He helped the Rams reach Super Bowl 53.
Last season was his first with double-digit sacks.
In a 37-10 win over the Falcons on Oct. 20, 2019, he terrorized the offensive tackles. Fowler finished with seven tackles, three sacks, three tackles for losses and four quarterback hits.
“It didn’t hurt him playing in (former Rams defensive coordinator) Wade Phillips’ defense,” Davis said. “Wade schemes people free better than a lot of people do.”
Here’s a look at where things stand with the Falcons’ potential unrestricted and restricted free agents:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Kenjon Barner, running back
Matt Schaub, quarterback – Club picked up his option, according to his agent.
Justin Hardy, wide receiver - Will not re-sign with team
Austin Hooper, tight end – Will be allowed to hit the market. Has agreed to terms with the Browns.
Matt Simms, quarterback
Keith Smith, fullback – Was re-signed to a three-year deal on Saturday, March 14
Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center – Will be allowed to hit the market. Set to sign with Washington
Ty Sambrailo, tackle - Released by the team on March 16
Devonta Freeman - Cut by the team on March 17
Luke Stocker, tight end - To be released pending a physical
Dante Fowler Jr, defensive end -- Agreed to deal with the Falcons
Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker – Will not be re-signed. Will join Titans on a one-year deal
De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker – Will be allowed to hit the market
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end -- Unrestricted free agent.
Jack Crawford, defensive tackle -- Unrestricted free agent.
Johnathan Cyprien, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle - Agrees to three-year deal
Ra'Shede Hageman, defensive tackle – Waived by the team on Jan. 13
Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker – Will not be re-signed by Falcons
Steven Means, defensive end - Re-signed to a one-year contract on March 9
Sharrod Neasman, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
Jamar Taylor, cornerback -- Unrestricted free agent.
John Wetzel, offensive lineman – Vested veteran contract terminated and then re-signed.
J.J. Wilcox, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback -- Unrestricted free agent
Desmond Trufant - Released by team
Matt Bosher, punter -- Unrestricted free agent
Ryan Allen, punter – Signed to a one-year contract extension for $945,000 on Feb. 18
Sam Irwin-Hill, punter – Signed to a one-year contract worth $510,000
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Brian Hill, running back - Falcons place tender
Michael Bennett, defensive tackle
Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18.
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