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Free Agent Spotlight: Edge Rusher, Dante Fowler, Jr.

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Could the Bucs add a former first-round pick?

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It appears Dante Fowler, Jr. could be heading for NFL free agency. Coming off a starter role with a team that made the Super Bowl isn’t always what to expect to hear before learning that player might be let go. But if he is, what would Fowler, Jr. hitting free agency look like?

DANTE FOWLER JR.’S CAREER

Fowler was drafted third overall in the 2015 Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars after forgoing his college senior year eligibility. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL early in his rookie minicamp and missed his entire rookie year. In 2016 he worked his way back and appeared in all sixteen games. He recorded 23 tackles and four sacks, a solid campaign for a player coming back from a major injury. In 2017 he was able to stay healthy again and had his best year yet with eight sacks. It looked as if he might become the pass rusher he was drafted to be.

But it was not to be. In 2018 he was suspended the first game of the season for violating the league’s Conduct Policy and was suspended for a week in the preseason for something he said to the referees. He couldn’t break through the Jags’ stacked defensive line and was logging just 32 percent of the snaps as a rotational player. He recorded just two sacks for the Jaguars in seven games and Jacksonville traded him to the Los Angeles Rams for two draft picks - a 2019 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick. In his first four games with the Rams Fowler collected two more sacks, playing as an “outside linebacker” in Wade Phillips’ defense. Fowler did not have any sacks during the Rams’ playoff run, but he finished with about 57 percent of the snaps.

WHY THE BUCCANEERS NEED HIM

Who doesn’t need more edge rushers? The truth is Fowler doesn’t actually provide that much in the way of a pass rush. He has 4, 8, and 4 sacks in his three seasons respectively. The Rams traded for him hoping to work out his untapped potential. Drafting a first-round edge rusher is the best way to find the highly valuable consistent double-digit sack guys. Fowler hasn’t been that guy. Now that he’s entering his fifth season in the league, he’s also unlikely to become that kind of player. But he’s fast, instinctual, and a good edge defender. Fowler will also be just 25 years old next season and he probably might still provide a higher ceiling than players like Carl Nassib.

WHAT WILL FOWLER, JR. COST?

That’s an interesting question. Even accounting for just the seasons he has played, Fowler doesn’t put up much numbers. He’s 39th in sacks since 2016 and just 48th in tackles for a loss. His numbers are closer to Alex Okafor or say Shaq Lawson. Adrian Clayborn got a $10 million dollar deal worth $5m per year. Fowler may find his market somewhere around $10-15 million dollars total. However, all it takes is one team to believe it can unlock his potential and offer him more to start for them.

WILL IT HAPPEN?

Probably not. Fowler’s price tag seems accessible, but does he add anything to the Bucs, or make them better? He might be the right move if the Bucs are looking to cut what they feel is some dead weight on the roster and want to pick up a cheaper or equivalently priced alternative with higher upside. Fowler may want a team that is willing to be patient with him and try to develop him into a starter. That could pay off for both him and that team. But right now in his career he may be better suited to a rotational role as a team’s No. 2 edge rusher, and where he is surrounded by talent, like he is with the Rams. Fowler could get that in Tampa Bay if the Buccaneers hold on to Gerald McCoy, but Fowler would still likely share snaps and that No.2 role with Nassib.