Atlanta Falcons release veteran LB Dante Fowler Jr. after two seasons

The Atlanta Falcons released Dante Fowler Jr. on Wednesday, moving on from the outside linebacker with one year left on his contract.

Fowler had taken a pay cut entering the 2021 season as part of a reconfigured contract and then failed to hit any of the incentives that were placed in the deal, playing in 14 games -- starting six -- and finishing with 4.5 sacks.

The 27-year-old had incentive markers in his contract -- $1 million bonuses starting at five sacks. As part of the reworked contract entering 2021, it meant his cap hit would be more than $29 million -- something that likely would have been untenable for Atlanta.

Now, instead of figuring that out, the team released him after two seasons with the club in which he played a combined 28 games, starting 19 of them and registering 59 tackles and 7.5 sacks. By the end of the season, Fowler's playing time had become inconsistent. In some games he would play more than 50% of the snaps; in others he'd play under 40%.

Fowler led the Falcons with 4.5 sacks, but Atlanta was last in the NFL in sacks with 18.

In 2021, he had more than one quarterback hit in a game only once -- Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he had a sack and a forced fumble. After a knee injury knocked him out of three games in late October and early November, Fowler started only one other game -- at the Carolina Panthers -- registering a sack and a season-high three solo tackles.

It was the last sack he'd have with the Falcons.

"Dante, like a lot of our guys, gives everything he's got," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said in January. "He's a tough football player and fun to get to know him, to work with him."

Cutting Fowler will leave the Falcons with $4,666,668 in dead money for 2022 on their books but will free the club from the majority of an inflated deal.

The No. 3 overall pick out of Florida by Jacksonville in the 2015 draft, Fowler has played in 91 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Rams and the Falcons, starting 40 of them. His most productive season was with the Rams in 2019, when he had 11.5 sacks -- the only time in his career he hit double-digit sacks.

Releasing Fowler means the Falcons have only Ade Ogundeji, James Vaughters and John Cominsky on the 2022 roster as far as outside linebacker contributors last season.