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Veteran Dante Fowler Jr. may be in trouble as young pass rushers emerge

Dante Fowler made a strong contribution last year, but could he get caught up in the Cowboys numbers game?

Dallas Cowboys v Tennessee Titans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Dante Fowler Jr. is set to return to the Dallas Cowboys in 2023 after a one-year trial last season earned him a new contract. But with some rookie talent emerging over the last month, could the veteran be up against the numbers at final cuts?

Fowler’s experience with Dan Quinn in Atlanta led him to Dallas last season as part of their pass-rushing rotation. He chipped in six sacks, trying DeMarcus Lawrence for third on the team. Considering he only played on 30% of the defensive snaps, compared to around 60% for Lawrence and 47% for Dorance Armstrong, Fowler provided excellent value when called upon.

Given the strong work, the Cowboys offered Fowler another one-year deal to return in 2023. He stands to make up to $3 million total with incentives, but only $1 million of that contract is currently guaranteed.

That’s where things get a little dicey for Fowler in the coming days. The Cowboys have had two rookies showing they may have something in Viliami Fehoko and Isaiah Land. Now that Sam Williams should be ready for more work at defensive end, could all of this youth put the squeeze on Fowler’s roster spot?

Fehoko was probably making the team anyway as a fourth-round pick, so Land is the one really turning up the heat. While officially listed as a linebacker he’s been deployed mainly as a pass rusher and has been one of the standouts of the last two preseason games. His name is high enough on some league-wide measures that Dallas might have a hard time getting him to the practice squad.

With Lawrence, Armstrong, Williams, and of course, Micah Parsons already filling out the edge rotation nicely, Fowler’s presence was more icing on the cake. That also means he could be seen as expendable if Dallas would rather protect a younger asset like Land and save some money in the process.

You might ask why the Cowboys wouldn’t look at Armstrong here and that’s a fair question. He would offer even greater cap relief; $5.75 million saved if released or traded. But he’s also about three years younger than Fowler and commands heavier responsibility in the DE group.

Trade is another possibility for Fowler. He has a big name and is coming off a strong year, plus he’d be an affordable addition to another squad. Dallas might not be able to get much back beyond a late-round pick but it’s certainly better than nothing.

That said, Fowler’s relationship with Quinn is still a factor here. The Cowboys are invested in their defensive coordinator’s happiness and keeping one of his veteran guys contributes to it.

By giving him the second contract, Dallas clearly believes that Dante Fowler Jr. will still be of value in 2023. His roster spot may already be secure in their minds, but it’s clear that new faces are at least making it a conversation. Like many older players this week, Fowler has to be a little nervous as final cuts get closer.

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