One of the more underrated Cowboys free agents in 2023 is defensive end Dante Fowler. In his first season with Dallas, Fowler tied for third on the team in sacks and contributed much despite a lesser share in the pass-rushing rotation. Was it enough to earn the veteran another contract with the Cowboys?
Fowler and DeMarcus Lawrence both finished the year with six sacks each. They trailed only Micah Parsons and Dorance Armstrong, who had 13.5 and 8.5 sacks respectively.
Going deeper into the pass rush stats, you find Fowler second on the team with 11 QB hurries (Parsons led with 13). You also see Fowler and Lawrence tied for second with 21 pressures (Parsons led with 41).
What makes this more impressive is when you take into account how much less Fowler was on the field than these teammates.
2022 Total Defensive Snaps
- Parsons - 919
- Lawrence - 697
- Armstrong - 543
- Fowler - 343
Clearly. Fowler did a lot with his limited opportunities in Dallas’ rotation. He also stayed healthy enough to appear in all 17 games, which has been an issue for him throughout his career. He more than validated Dan Quinn’s loyalty in his single season with the Cowboys.
Still just 28-years-old, Fowler no doubt hoped that 2022 would serve as a message to the league that the former first-round pick still had plenty to offer. While he was successful in that endeavor, did Fowler do enough to get another contract from the Cowboys, or will he have to hope for a reward from another team?
Dallas already has a strong stable of defensive ends going into next season. Counting Parsons among them given his high usage rate as a pass rusher, you have Parsons, Lawrence, Armstrong, Sam Williams, and Chauncey Golston all under contract.
With both Williams and Golston pushing for more snaps themselves in their second and third seasons, Fowler likely isn’t going to get a larger role in the defensive end rotation if he returns. Given that, it’s hard to see Dallas opening the wallet to retain his services.
It somewhat reminds you of what happened a few years back with Robert Quinn in Dallas. The Cowboys took a flyer on Quinn after some down seasons and he exploded in 2019, then parlayed that one big year into a big contract with Chicago.
Fowler didn’t have nearly as big a season in 2022 as Quinn did then, so hopefully he doesn’t have the same expectations in free agency. But with a well-known name and coming off his best season since 2019, Fowler may at least hope for a mid-range deal with multiple years and a chance to be a more utilized piece in somebody’s defense.
Having the pass rushers signed for 2023 that they already do, Dallas is probably looking for another budget-friendly guy to fill out the depth chart like Fowler was last year. We already saw them work with another Dan Quinn guy last year when Takk McKinley was signed to the practice squad.
Every year there are options in free agency like Fowler was in 2022; guys with proven talent coming off bad years. This is where the Cowboys’ dice-rolling ways are good business. They got a lot out of Fowler for a minimal one-year contract and will likely hope to do it again with some other down-on-his-luck veteran.
For Dante Fowler, that means the reward last season will likely have to come from another team. He certainly gave Dallas a strong return on their investment, but now he’s probably looking for more than they’ll be willing to pay.