The Rams are hoping the 2015 first-round pick can bolster their pass rush
The trade deadline in professional sports can usually be an event within itself. Deadline day is an annual rite of passage in Major League Baseball, deadline deals are frequent in the NBA, and occasionally the NHL will get shaken up with a trade or two. But the NFL usually isn’t a trade-happy league as most teams fill crucial roster needs with free agency or by taking a chance on someone another team let go. But it wasn't business as usual this year.
It wasn't so much the number of trades that took place last Tuesday, but more some of the names were involved. On deadline day alone, Demaryius Thomas, Golden Tate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Dante Fowler Jr. were all traded. In Fowler's case, he was traded from Jacksonville to the Los Angeles Rams for future third- (2019) and fifth-round (2020) draft picks.
While the Jaguars appear to be a team at a bit of a crossroads, Fowler adds yet another pass rusher to a defense that already includes reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, fellow defensive linemen Ndamukong and Michael Brockers, inside linebackers Cory Littleton and Mark Barron, and defensive backs Marcus Peters, Sam Shields and LaMarcus Joyner. There was no lack of star power or talent to begin with and now Fowler, the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, adds to the depth.
Not only does this move have significant effects on the future of both franchises, but it also could impact the NFC playoff picture, which will start to take shape even more this month. Here are the five biggest takeaways on the Fowler trade.
1. Fowler will be more productive in Los Angeles
The 24-year-old’s career got off to a rocky start when he tore the ACL in his knee on the first day of minicamp of his rookie season in 2015. He was able to return and played in all 32 games in 2016 and '17, combining for 53 total tackles, 12 sacks, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He only started one game, however and had gotten off to a slow start this season.
In eight games, including his first with Los Angeles last Sunday, he has been credited with 10 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Given the inconsistency and the timing (last year of his rookie contract), Jacksonville decided to move on. Perhaps a change of scenery is what Fowler needs to maximize his talent and potential. For the Rams, he'll be another complementary piece to a defense that already includes standouts like Donald, Suh, as well as Littleton, this season's breakout performer. There's less pressure on Fowler, and he may be able to benefit from the attention offensive lines will have to pay to his teammates. After all, Donald and Suh are already seeing a fair amount of double-teams.
2. The Rams' defense is a better fit for Fowler’s skill set
At Florida, Fowler switched between defensive end and linebacker. With the Jaguars he was mostly used as a defensive end with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 alignment. Now with the Rams, he'll be employed as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4, which is better suited for his size (6-3, 255) and his speed. Many scouts had projected him as a 3-4 linebacker coming out of college and now he won't have his hand on the ground anymore, which will make even him more explosive coming off the line of scrimmage. He also will be playing for a coordinator who has a reputation for dialing up the pressure.
3. The Rams made this move at the right time
When you’re in the playoff race it never hurts to bolster your chances of winning said race, and this trade helps the Rams' chances of doing just that. But this trade also came at the right time, when you look at Los Angeles' upcoming schedule. Last Sunday, the Rams had the challenge of facing Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense in the Superdome, and now the defense will have to prepare for some of the league's most athletic quarterbacks.
It starts Sunday at home against familiar foe Russell Wilson and Seahawks and then next week it will be phenom Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' explosive offense in Mexico City. After their Week 12 bye, it's back-to-back road trips against Mathew Stafford and the Lions and Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears, followed by a Week 15 home date with the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. Carson Wentz didn't play in Super Bowl LII for Philadelphia but he was a big reason the Eagles got there and the Dec. 16 game will have extra meaning for him since it will come shortly after the one-year anniversary where he tore his ACL in Los Angeles against the Rams last season.
This upcoming slate of games is not only important to the Rams, who are looking to get back to the playoffs, but also for each of the teams facing them which have a similar goal in mind.
4. This is probably the first of many changes for Jacksonville
Trading a former first-round pick is not a decision a team makes lightly, especially considering the investment that has already been made in that player. But Jacksonville clearly thought it was time to move on and given the struggles the Jaguars are going through, more changes are probably coming. The Jags went from being a trendy pick by some to go to the Super Bowl to a 3-5 team at the midway point and one that's mired in a four-game losing streak.
There has been much talk about the quarterback position and Blake Bortles' future with the team. To that end, the draft picks Jacksonville acquired from the Rams for Fowler could end up being part of the team's solution, whether one of them is used on a quarterback or is part of a package to help the Jags move up in the draft to get one.
5. Fowler is playing for his future
Prior to the season, Jacksonville declined the fifth-year option on Fowler's rookie deal that would have paid him $14 million in 2019. That’s no longer an issue for the Jaguars and it's not a concern for Los Angeles either. Instead, Fowler has half a season to show the Rams or another team that that he's worth a second big contract. And he gets to do this while playing for the team that has the best record in the league, on a defense that already has plenty of star power.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of www.therams.com)