Dante Fowler Jr.

Falcons To Sign Dante Fowler Jr.

Dante Fowler Jr. has agreed to sign with the Falcons, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. It’s a three-year deal for the pass rusher (per Rapoport). Fowler will be getting a whopping $48MM over the three years, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure tweets.

The former third-overall pick joined the Rams via trade midway through the 2018 season. He finally exploded for a career season in 2019, finishing with career-highs in tackles (58), sacks (11.5), passes defended (six), and forced fumbles (two).

Fowler had spent the first four-plus seasons of his career with the Jaguars, including a rookie campaign that was wiped out thanks to a torn ACL.

In Atlanta, he’ll be playing under head coach Dan Quinn, who actually worked with Fowler when the two were at Florida. He’ll immediately provide some reinforcement to a pass rush that recently lost Vic Beasley via free agency.

With the Falcons being low in space space, the past two days have mostly been highlighted by players they’ve released, including running back Devonta Freeman. Otherwise, they’ve extended defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and traded for tight end Hayden Hurst.

According to Rapoport, the Rams tried to retain Fowler. The team has already seen several key defensive free agents leave, including linebacker Cory Littleton (Raiders) and defensive lineman Michael Brockers (Ravens).

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Jets Targeting Pass Rushers

The Jets are seeking some pass-rush help, and they’re eyeing some of the top names on the market. Sources tell Connor Hughes of The Athletic that “the Jets are doing their homework on Jadeveon Clowney” and are among the teams “in on him.” The Jets are also planning to “actively pursue” Rams pass rusher Dante Fowler.

The team could alternatively look to the trade market for help. Hughes writes that the Jets are expected to make a call on Ravens defensive end Matt Judon, who is expected to receive the franchise tag after finishing 2019 with a career-high 9.5 sacks. However, Hughes cautions that the organization may be wary to give up too much draft capital, especially when they’re looking to fill holes via the draft.

Hughes also expects the Jets to be in on a number of offensive lineman, including Joe Thuney and Graham Glasgow. We heard yesterday that the organization was planning on pursuing Redskins lineman Trent Williams. The front office could even pursue cornerback James Bradberry, according to the writer.

The Jets will have a whole lot of money to throw at a pass-rusher, as they’re currently sitting with more than $60MM in projected cap space. Hughes notes that the organization could easily move on from the likes of cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson, lineman Brian Winters, and others, which would open up an additional $20MM to $27MM in cap space.

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Rams HC, GM Discuss Offseason

It’s been a busy 24 months for the Rams, and it’ll all culminate with a crucial 2020 offseason.

They’ve handed out a number of high-priced extensions to quarterback Jared Goff, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and others, leading to only $21MM in cap space this year. The organization also traded their 2020 and 2012 first-rounders for Jalen Ramsey, leaving the team with reduced draft capital.

Plus, the organization is staring at a long list of impending unrestricted free agents. In other words, the Rams could look a bit different next season.

Head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead spoke to ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry about some of their critical offseason decisions. The entire article is worth a read, but we snagged some of the notable soundbites below:

On if the front office has engaged in any trade talks:

McVay: “Usually, Aaron Donald is off the table. I think, to answer your question, I think you kind of know who are the guys that there’s not something that would be worth it, but those are ongoing conversations and I think we’re always open to being able to explore things that can upgrade us as a team.

“What we have done a nice job of is identifying those foundational pieces to try to build around.”

Snead: “This time of year, it is interesting. You get calls on a lot of players. There’s a new era, in that somebody may call and ask about your best player, which in the past, I don’t know that phone call would be made. … But usually the answer is ‘No.'”

On free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth‘s potential return:

McVay: “We’re pretty confident. He still played a really high level last year. His impact isn’t exclusive to just playing the left tackle position.”

On free agent kicker Greg Zuerlein:

McVay: “He’s done so many things and he’s a great kicker and I think those established veterans are so important, especially when every time he takes the field, there’s points at stake, unless he’s kicking off. But we want to make sure we’re evaluating the guys in the draft and then we’re going to have free agency.”

On potential extensions for receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson:

Snead: “The goal would be, let’s say guys like those two, if we do want them to get back, it would be great to have that box checked. What we have to do now is, because we have, I call it more urgent guys whose contracts actually expire, get through that process first and then move on to — I don’t want to call them less urgent — but less urgent than the players whose contracts are expiring.”

On potentially franchising free agent linebackers Dante Fowler or Cory Littleton:

Snead: “All options are on the table.”

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NFLPA Wins Grievance Against Jaguars

The NFL Players Association has won a grievance against the Jaguars and has released a rather scathing statement on the team’s policies, as Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets.

The entire statement from the union may be found at the Twitter link above, but essentially, the Jags (read: executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin) have recently required their players to get all offseason medical treatment at the team facility. When players failed to do so, they were disciplined by the club.

For instance, one player — whom Mark Long of the Associated Press identified as former Jaguar and current Ram Dante Fowler (Twitter link) — was fined 25 times for a total of $700K in 2018 for missing offseason appointments at Jacksonville headquarters. Fowler confirmed (via Twitter) that he was indeed the player referenced in the statement, and he said, “[the Jaguars] literally hated me.” All of the fines have now been rescinded.

An arbitrator found that, except in very limited circumstances, offseason activities of any kind are voluntary and a team cannot make them mandatory. The statement goes on to say that, in the last two years — Coughlin has served in his current post since 2017 — 25% of grievances filed by NFL players have been filed against the Jaguars.

This development obviously reflects poorly on the Jags, who are expected to make major organizational changes this offseason. That could include the departure of Coughlin, which may not be a bad thing as far as attracting free agents is concerned.

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Contract Details: Joyner, Titans, Rams, Hart

Let’s take a look at the details of a few recently-signed contracts from around the NFL. Twitter links courtesy of Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, unless otherwise noted.

Rams Re-Sign Dante Fowler Jr.

The Rams are re-signing outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., the team announced on Twitter. Fowler had been set to become a free agent.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but it’s safe to assume Fowler landed a significant sum. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network soon tweeted that it’s a one-year deal for Fowler. He had been set to be one of the top pass-rushers available in free agency, and the Rams locking him up will have a major ripple effect across the league. The Rams traded third and fifth round picks to the Jaguars for him at the trade deadline, and didn’t want to let him walk.

Free agency is set to open tomorrow, and one of the bigger names is now off the market. We heard last week that the Jets had been interested in Fowler. The third overall pick in 2015, he had his fifth-year option declined by Jacksonville last year, which made him a free agent now. It’s interesting that he accepted a one-year deal, as he had been rumored to be seeking a lengthier pact. He’ll now have the chance to prove himself in Los Angeles, and re-enter the market next year.

Fowler never quite lived up to his draft status, but is capable of being a productive pass-rusher. For his career, he has 16 sacks in 47 games. He was relatively quiet in the regular season with the Rams, but really turned it on in the playoffs. Fowler landed the hit on Drew Brees in the NFC Championship Game which forced an interception and sent the Rams to the Super Bowl. The Rams have been really aggressive the past couple of seasons, and they’ve been continuing that this offseason. Recently, they made a splash by signing safety Eric Weddle, as they look to make another Super Bowl run.

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AFC Notes: Texans, Broncos, Jets, Bell

The Texans are expected to release cornerback Kevin Johnson, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. As previously reported, the Texans have discussed trading Johnson, but it’s much more likely that he’ll be cut given his contract (due $9.1MM in 2019) and recent concussion issues (played only one game in 2018). Still, releasing Johnson will leave the Texans extra thin at cornerback, so the position figures to be a priority for them in March and April.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Broncos are expected to have interest in linebacker C.J. Mosley, according to Troy Renck of Denver7 (on Twitter). This week, we learned that the Ravens will not use the franchise tag on Mosley and the expectation is that he will be an unrestricted free agent later this month. Mosley, 27 in June, is a perennial Pro Bowler and anchored Baltimore’s linebacking corps for several years.
  • The Jets are expected to target second-tier running backs during free agency, according to Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com, which signals that Le’Veon Bell is not the team’s focus. The Jets could theoretically sign Bell, Pauline hears, but only if they do not come away with a big-time pass rusher. Speaking of the pass rush, the Jets have been connected to Dante Fowler, but people at the combine told Pauline that contract length may be a sticking point for Gang Green. Fowler probably wants something in the four-year range while the Jets are hesitant about such a commitment.
  • The Dolphins haven’t told Minkah Fitzpatrick whether they want him to play safety or cornerback in 2019, but they want him to be a safety in the long run, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald hears. He could get a head start on the safety plan this year, but that will depend on what happens with incumbents T.J. McDonald and Reshad Jones. Right now, it seems unlikely that the Dolphins would move on from either safety. Cutting McDonald would save only $1.4MM versus $4.6MM in dead money. Meanwhile, Jones is already guaranteed $11MM for 2019.

Jets Interested In Fowler, Ansah

The Jets’ need for pass rushing help has been well documented and they’re already targeting some of this year’s biggest available names. Gang Green is showing interest in Dante Fowler (Rams), Ezekiel Ansah (Lions), and Preston Smith (Redskins), according to ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini (on Twitter). 

This year’s crop, at first glance, is positively loaded with impactful edge rushers. However, top flight guys like Demarcus Lawrence (Cowboys), Jadeveon Clowney (Texans), Frank Clark (Seahawks), and Dee Ford (Chiefs) are expected to receive tags or sign long-term deals with their respective clubs. That may leave the Jets to sift through some lower tier options, though Fowler, Ansah, and Smith all have upside.

Fowler, a former No. 3 overall pick, didn’t do a ton during the regular season, but he made a dent in the Rams’ first two playoff games. Ansah was limited to just seven games in 2018, but his history (14.5 sacks in 2015; 12.0 sacks in 2017) shows that he’s capable of much more when healthy. Smith, who had only four sacks last year, has amassed eight sacks in two of his four pro seasons and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ eighth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league in 2018.

With $102MM+ to burn, the Jets should be able to sign at least a couple of impact edge rushers in March.

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Extra Points: Trade Candidates, Jets, Raiders

With the Super Bowl just one week away, free agency is fast approaching. It should be a busy March and in addition to the free agency frenzy, there could be an active trade market this Spring. A potential Antonio Brown trade has dominated headlines, but there a bunch of other high profile guys who could be moved. With that in mind, former NFL agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry recently took a look at the top ten trade candidates for this offseason.

The whole piece is worth a read, as it’s always great to get an agent’s perspective on these matters. Among the big names that Corry lists as trade possibilities are Joe Flacco, Brown, and Eli Manning. Blockbuster trades didn’t used to be too common in the NFL, but teams have slowly been coming around to making bigger deals the past few years. Odds are there will be at least a couple of splash trades before training camp rolls around.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Jets desperately need pass-rush help, and they “almost certainly will be interested” in Rams defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. when free agency starts, according to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. Vacchiano writes that the Jets “tried several times to trade for him” from the Jaguars before they ultimately dealt him to Los Angeles. Fowler, an impending free agent, wasn’t great in the regular season, but he’s come alive in the playoffs with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits through two playoff games. Vacchiano’s piece also highlights Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers as a potential target for the Jets, as he writes that New England isn’t “likely to pay him” this offseason.
  • Speaking of teams looking for pass-rush help, the Raiders are in a similar boat. New Raiders GM Mike Mayock didn’t try to hide the fact that the team is looking for some help on the outside of their defensive line this week at the Senior Bowl, telling reporters “are we focused in on defensive ends at [the Senior Bowl]? Of course”, according to Scott Bair of NBC Sports, adding “we’d be dumb if we weren’t”. The Raiders had only 13 sacks as a team this past year, by far the fewest of any team in the league. In fact the second worse total was 30, more than twice as many as Oakland had, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they go with a pass-rusher at number four overall in this April’s draft.
  • In case you missed it, Cowboys star pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence is set to undergo shoulder surgery.

Failed Trades: Beasley, Fowler, Jets, Jags

After the trade deadline passes each year, there are inevitably reports about the trades that were discussed but never consummated. For instance, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that teams were trying to trade for Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley (video link). Beasley has just one sack this year, and he has regressed considerably since his First Team All-Pro performance in 2016, but Atlanta believes it can make the playoffs this season, and it was not prepared to move a foundational piece like Beasley, who is under contract through 2019 via the fifth-year option.

Now for more reports concerning trades that never happened, which nonetheless shed some light on the teams that declined to make the deals, the clubs that tried to make the deals, and the players themselves:

  • The Jets, desperate for pass rushing help, inquired on former Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler over the summer, and they tried again at last week’s trade deadline, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com details. The Rams ultimately acquired Fowler in exchange for a 2019 third-rounder and 2020 fifth-rounder, and while the Jets submitted a similar offer about a half hour before the 4pm deadline on October 30, they also wanted a fourth-rounder to come back to them. As such, Jacksonville pulled the trigger on the Rams’ offer.
  • Interestingly, before dealing him to the Saints in August, the Jets offered quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Jaguars in a one-for-one swap for Fowler, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Jacksonville rebuffed that proposal, even though it knew that Fowler was probably on the way out, and given their QB struggles, that decision may have made a major difference in the Jags’ season.
  • Fowler may not have been the Rams‘ first choice for pass rushing help. We already knew that Los Angeles had made a significant offer for Khalil Mack before he was dealt to the Bears, but Schefter writes that the Rams also called the Texans to discuss Jadeveon Clowney in the first weeks of the season, and as late as last week, they made a push to acquire the BillsJerry Hughes.
  • Several teams, including the Eagles, called the Jets in an effort to acquire deep threat Robby Anderson, per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (Twitter link). However, Gang Green opted to hold on to Anderson because the development of Sam Darnold remains the team’s top priority, and it did not want to remove one of Darnold’s biggest weapons.