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Cowboys free agency 2022: What Dante Fowler brings to Dallas in return to Dan Quinn’s defense

The Cowboys like their own guys at defensive end, but also added a former Quinn signing in free agency.

Washington Football Team v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At long last, the Dallas Cowboys added outside talent in free agency. On Friday, the team addressed two needs they created themselves earlier this offseason. James Washington was signed after Amari Cooper’s trade to the Browns, and Cedrick Wilson's signing with the Dolphins. Dante Fowler was also added to reunite with Dan Quinn on a one year deal, which the Cowboys can only hope eases the departure of Randy Gregory.

Both signings are in line with the Cowboys strategy of looking for low-risk but high-upside free agents. Neither Washington or Fowler should stop the Cowboys from looking at wide receiver or defensive end early in the draft. Taking the pressure off of needing a day one starter at defensive end in next month’s draft is the right move, and Fowler’s ties to Quinn go as far back as his college career at Florida.

Quinn spent the 2012 season as the Gators defensive coordinator, where the future third overall pick Fowler was a freshman. After a breakout season in the NFL in 2019 with the Rams, Quinn brought Fowler to the Falcons where he had three sacks in 2020.

In a situational role this season, Fowler recorded 4.5 sacks, and now joins a rotation with DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Micah Parsons. The Falcons played the NFC East this season, giving some familiar tape to study the newest Cowboys pass rusher.

After watching him against the Football Team and the Cowboys, here is my report on what Dante Fowler brings to Dallas.

DE Dante Fowler: Strengths

Fowler can rush from a two- or three-point stance, giving Quinn good versatility in his alignments up front. His quickness and bend stand out the most, using his length well to avoid blockers and shoot into the backfield.

Fowler also uses a strong counter move with sudden change of direction to get blockers hands off of him. When tackles are caught too high against Fowler, he shows off his ankle flex to turn the corner and close with speed. This is a sure tackler in the run game, making stops in the open field while lining up as both a right and left end.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

DE Dante Fowler: Weaknesses

The Cowboys making headlines with “former first-round pick” included is nothing new, but there’s a reason top-five picks reach free agency. Fowler lasted just two full seasons in Jacksonville, where he had 14 sacks before being traded to the Rams in his third year. This lack of consistency has held Fowler back from realizing his full potential as a physically dominant player with all the traits in college.

Fowler lacks much of a rush plan when blockers get his hands on him, struggling with balance and relying too much on his upper body. Lacking the power in his hands to knock tackles backwards, Fowler can get tossed around by more physical blockers that work into his frame. Even when his speed game is working, Fowler is steered behind the pocket allowing quarterbacks to climb, and can over pursue in the run game.

Where Fowler’s athleticism should make him a tough matchup for interior linemen to handle, he’s often overmatched and struggles to avoid contact when playing through clutter.

DE Dante Fowler: Summary

The Cowboys are slowly coming around on building a roster that’s ready for the draft, addressing their needs while acknowledging there’s work left to be done. Their current pass rush rotation of Lawrence, Parsons, Armstrong, and Fowler has a lot of potential, but leaves something to be desired in holding the line of scrimmage and playing the run.

Fowler fits Dan Quinn’s system as a matchup player, coming in on passing downs to rush from multiple spots. This is a player that surprises tackles with his burst, and can show it off the best when not logging too many snaps.

Dallas would do well to upgrade at both defensive tackle and linebacker if they want to get the most out of Fowler and their pass rush, re-signing Leighton Vander Esch on Friday helps. There’s also hope that the 2022 season will be an extension of the early parts of last year, when the Cowboys defense benefited from an offense that put up points and forced teams to throw from behind. This would give Fowler ideal situations to go after the quarterback, making the most of his reunion under Quinn.

We discussed the additions of both James Washington and Dante Fowler in our latest video on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel! Make sure to subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our videos.