When Los Angeles traded a conditional 2019 third-round pick and 2020 fifth-round pick for outside linebacker Dante Fowler back in October, the idea was to acquire an edge-rushing presence that could make a significant difference in clinching the division and making a significant playoff run.
After eight regular-season games and three postseason contests, it’s safe to say Fowler made a real impact on the 2018 Rams.
The former No. 3 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft picked up 2.0 sacks in the regular season, along with a pass defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, four tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits. And he kept up the production once the calendar hit January and February, making 1.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, and three QB hits in the postseason.
But now, the Rams and Fowler have a decision to make. Fowler is slated to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins on March 13. And given how pass-rushing talent is always at a premium in the NFL, he could receive a fairly lucrative deal on the open market.
So what are the options?
Los Angeles could place a tag on Fowler — either the transition tag, non-exclusive franchise tag, or exclusive franchise tag. The transition tag would allow the Rams to match any offer Fowler receives on the open market. The non-exclusive franchise tag would allow Fowler to negotiate with other teams, but if he reached a deal with another team, it would ow the Rams significant compensation to sign Fowler. And the exclusive franchise tag would prevent Fowler from negotiating with other teams.
Check out the top photos of the Los Angeles Rams defensive line and linebackers from the 2018 season.
If Fowler received a tag and signed it, he would be under a one-year contract with L.A. Plus, the team would have until July 15 to sign Fowler to a long-term deal.
The Rams could also re-sign Fowler either before or after the start of free agency to keep him in the fold on a multi-year deal.
If Fowler departs, the Rams do have some potential internal options for edge rusher heading into 2019. One would be 2018 fifth-round pick Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who did not see the field as a rookie after suffering a foot injury during the offseason program and staying on the physically unable to perform list until midway through the regular season. Rising second-year players Trevon Young and Justin Lawler could also make an impact at the outside linebacker position.
Los Angeles will also have Morgan Fox returning from injury in 2019. Before suffering an ACL tear during OTAs in 2018, Fox was slated to be a significant part of the Rams’ defensive rotation at outside linebacker. Depending on his recovery, he could once again be a big part of the plan once the offseason program begins.