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Falcons clear $7 million in cap space with changes to Dante Fowler’s deal

The veteran pass rusher is coming off a forgettable 2020, but will hope to rebound in a big way with the Falcons in 2021.

Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Falcons had a bit of a conundrum with Dante Fowler heading into 2021. The veteran pass rusher is coming off a forgettable 2020 season where he had just 3 sacks and 23 pressures in 14 games, a massive dropoff from his 11.5 sack, 58 pressure 2019 season with the Rams. Atlanta had to decide whether they wanted to cut ties and further weaken an already depleted defensive end rotation, re-work his contract for some cap relief, or just move ahead with the contract as is and hope for the best.

It appears they chose option #2, and per Jeff Schultz at The Athletic, Fowler will be taking less money this season in order to reduce his cap hit and stay with the team. This follows on the heels of Tyeler Davison freeing up $2 million in cap space.

The numbers are in, per WSB-TV’s Zach Klein, and it’s a salary reduction with incentives that allow Fowler to make back about half of what the Falcons are realizing in savings. With a $1 million roster bonus in the $14 million he was to be paid this year, the Falcons got the salary down to $6 million and gave sacks-based milestones that will pay Fowler up to $4 million if he gets all the way to 11. Per Jeff Schultz, the incentives will be considered not likely to be earned, meaning they will not count against this year’s cap if Fowler does hit them. The team’s total savings appear to be $7 million, which will likely go toward signing a crop of affordable free agents and/or their draft class.

This is probably the best case outcome for the Falcons, who are aware Fowler dealt with injuries last year and need someone with a track record of getting after the quarterback to build around. Fowler seems likely to at least deliver more value in 2021 if he’s fully healthy and Dean Pees and company can squeeze more out of this defense in general, even if he’s far from a lock to put up double digit sacks and be among the league leaders in pressures this upcoming season. Atlanta now can focus on adding more talent to a rotation that at least will have Fowler and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.

Fowler, meanwhile, stays with the Falcons and has an opportunity to rehabilitate his value ahead of 2022, when the team could either choose to extend him or set him free in an open market that could be flooded with cap space. He’s got to be itching to prove himself after that crummy 2020 season, especially given that he’ll only be 27 this season and still has at least one more big contract left ahead of him if he can perform. We’ll hope he shows out this year for his sake and for Atlanta’s sake.