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Finding Free Agents: Dante Fowler Jr. would offer a solution to pass rush woes

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NFL: OCT 03 Rams at Seahawks Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In our 2020 iteration of Finding Free Agents, we’ll attempt to answer three questions for each player: Why would the Seahawks be interested? What would their contract look like? What is the likelihood they reach free agency? Throughout the series, we’ll be focused on specific positions of need in Seattle: Wide receiver, offensive line, defensive tackle and EDGE.

Dante Fowler Jr. departed Jacksonville midway through the 2018 season, ending a lackluster start to his career with the Jaguars, as the team that drafted him third overall prioritized Yannick Ngakoue over him. Though his rookie contract came to an end without much production—just four sacks between 15 games with the Rams and Jacksonville—he earned a decent prove-it deal in L.A. last spring worth $12 million, fully guaranteed, with incentives that could’ve taken it up to $14 million. The decision to bet on himself is about to pay off for Fowler Jr., as the former Florida Gator notched a career high 11.5 sacks in 2019, to go along with 16 tackles for loss and 53 pressures.

Fowler Jr. established himself as a pass rusher capable of producing at a high level last season and will now enter free agency at age 25 looking to get paid as such.

Why would the Seahawks be interested?

Seattle needs to be better at getting after the quarterback and Fowler Jr. does just that. Even in seasons with low sack totals (four in both 2016 and ‘18), Fowler Jr.’s underlying numbers have been solid, with a pressure rate hovering around 10 (and 10.4 for his career)—he impacts the quarterback, and that idea matters to Pete Carroll. Fowler Jr. could enter the Seahawks’ lineup and solidify the LEO spot for years to come, producing by winning around the corner or looping inside. Similar to his former running mate Ngakoue, he would pair brilliantly with a player like Jadeveon Clowney.

(Though Fowler Jr.’s run defense improved considerably with the Rams, it’s fair to wonder how much stock a 4-3 team would put into it. Fowler Jr. was moved off the ball in L.A., and that surely helped a ton.)

What would Fowler Jr.’s contract look like?

The Rams’ pass rusher could not have asked for a better result off his one-year deal and he’ll be rewarded handsomely for it. Though he isn’t as talented as Ngakoue, his cost on a long-term deal will be very similar. Fowler Jr. should be expected to surpass $17 million APY. If Seattle chooses to get into business with their former divisional foe, a four-year deal worth $72 million, with $18 million fully guaranteed at signing, could get it done.

Will Fowler Jr. reach free agency?

Between Fowler Jr.’s expected asking price and Los Angeles’ cap situation, he should certainly hit unrestricted free agency. The Rams have just under $15 million in cap space and extensions for Jalen Ramsey, John Johnson and Cooper Kupp—all on expiring deals next season—looming. Both Fowler Jr. and linebacker Corey Littleton seem likely to not only reach unrestricted free agency this spring, but depart Los Angeles shortly thereafter.

Current Falcons head coach Dan Quinn coached Fowler Jr. with the Gators and their relationship was well documented prior to last year’s Super Bowl. Atlanta—in a similarly difficult cap situation—have been often connected to Fowler Jr. ahead of free agency, with the pass rusher reportedly eager to reunite with his college coach. Though that may be true, the Falcons aren’t in a great situation to make it work—conversely, the Seahawks are.