It did not take long for Dante Fowler to fall in love with playing for the Rams.
After the team acquired the edge-rushing linebacker in a trade-deadline deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, star players such as defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters warmly embraced him. Coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips let Fowler be himself, and he helped the Rams advance to the Super Bowl.
Fowler liked the situation so much, he opted not to test the market as an unrestricted free agent. In March, he signed a one-year, $12-million contract with the Rams.
Now he is preparing for the 2019 season, and he acknowledged Monday that it will be a “show-me” situation over the course of a full season to prove he is worthy of a long-term extension.
And if he were to receive an offer from the Rams?
“Damn right, I will be signing that paper,” he said, chuckling, after going through a full-squad organized-team activity workout at the team’s practice facility in Thousand Oaks.
The Rams let lineman Ndamukong Suh become a free agent and released inside linebacker Mark Barron. They signed veterans in safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews, and drafted safety Taylor Rapp, cornerback David Long and lineman Greg Gaines.
But retaining the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Fowler — the third pick in the 2015 draft — might have been the Rams’ top priority before free agency began in March.
In eight games last season, Fowler recorded two sacks, four tackles for losses and several game-turning plays.
During overtime of the NFC championship game, Fowler pressured New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees into throwing a pass that was intercepted by safety John Johnson. The play set up the game-winning field goal that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.
After the season, the Rams monitored pass rushers that might be available through free agency, trades and the draft. Rams general manager Les Snead said the best option was Fowler, who has 16 sacks in 47 regular-season games and 3½ in six playoff games.
“Dante was a priority for us to try to get back for the 2019 season at minimum,” Snead said a few days after he re-signed Fowler.
Fowler said it was not difficult to pass on free agency and sign for one year after his experience with the Rams. He said he knew within a few weeks of joining the team that the situation was “a perfect fit.”
“It just felt like everything I was asking for,” he said. “It was like my wishes were being granted.”
Fowler said he initially was absent from voluntary offseason workouts last month because he was tending to child-care issues in Florida. During last season, two of his children were born.
Fowler participated in two workouts last week and was on the field Monday. He thanked McVay for his understanding.
With the benefit of an offseason and training camp with the Rams, McVay expects Fowler to be even better than last season.
“What he was able to do coming in in the middle of the year and being able to contribute the way that he did really says a lot about how quickly he was able to pick things up,” McVay said. “But now I think you can get a little more intricate with some of the details, some of the nuances, really where you’re starting the right way from a foundational teaching standpoint.
“And I think that’s only going to help Dante play faster, play more decisive.”
Fowler concurs. He knows his future with the Rams is riding on it.
“I’m just going to go out there and bust my tail and try to be the best player I can be on and off the field so I can try to figure out a way to stay here,” he said.
Running back Todd Gurley, who is not participating in on-field drills, and other proven starters almost certainly will not play in preseason games, as was the case last year, McVay indicated again Monday when asked about his plan. Starters are more likely to participate in scheduled practices against the Oakland Raiders and the Chargers during training camp. ... Receiver Cooper Kupp and linebacker Samson Ebukam are coming off knee surgeries and wearing red jerseys during workouts. On Monday, both participated in a full-squad drill that featured the starting offense against the starting defense. Players are not in pads and there is no live contact during offseason workouts.
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