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Falcons’ Dante Fowler: From ‘Bust’ to ‘Breakout’?

Dante Fowler's 2020 season was a bust for the Atlanta Falcons, but Atlanta is in a win/win situation with Fowler for 2021.

The Atlanta Falcons have lacked a premier pass-rusher since 2016 when Vic Beasley's flash-in-the-pan season netted 15.5 sacks. It was the only double-digit total for Beasley's career, and the Falcons haven't had a double-digit sack man since.

The Falcons brought in Dante Fowler as a free agent in 2020 with hopes of addressing the lack of quarterback pressure. Atlanta signed Fowler to a big money three-year $45 mil contract.

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Fowler was coming 11.5 sacks in 2019 with the Los Angeles Rams. Fowler appeared to be on the ascendancy after a move from Jacksonville to the Rams. The former third overall pick in 2016 had four sacks as a rookie, eight in 2017, and four between the Jaguars and Rams in 2018.

Fowler was an outright bust with the Falcons in 2020. He managed just 23 tackles and three sacks last season. He was such a disappointment that the final year of his contract was voided. He agreed to a pay cut in 2021, saving the Falcons roughly $6 mil this season.

The good news for the Falcons is that he is scheduled to be a free agent after this season. His original contract will only count $4.6 mil in dead cap space in 2022 according to Spotrac. His $10.6 mil cap hit for 2021 will be gone next season... unless. …

Unless Fowler becomes the force he was in LA. 

Fowler turns 27 in August and has shown talent enough to make him the third-overall pick and earn a second big-money contract from the Falcons.

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The Falcons would love for Fowler to have a huge contract year in 2021 and have to make a tough decision for 2022. Was he just playing for a contract, or can Fowler be the long-term answer to the Falcons pass rush woes?

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The price for sacks is a steep one. Ten players had 10 or more sacks in 2020, and only two of those players will make less than $14 mil in 2021, Haason Reddick of the Carolina Panthers and Stephon Tuitt of the Steelers.

The Falcons gambled on Fowler in 2020, but now it's up to Fowler to bet on himself and produce in 2021. The Falcons come up winners next season regardless. Either Fowler has a terrific year, or he's gone and frees up significant salary cap space for Atlanta in 2022.