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Cowboys no match for LB Fowler; Titans sign Gage

The Dallas Cowboys on Friday evening opted not to match the restricted free agent offer sheet signed by linebacker Ryan Fowler earlier this week, meaning that the three-year veteran will be allowed to move to the Tennessee Titans.

Dallas' decision not to match, which was anticipated, came three days before the deadline for acting on the offer. The offer sheet is for four years, and believed to be worth $11.5 million.

Had the Cowboys matched it, they would have assumed the terms of the deal that the Titans negotiated with Fowler. Because he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Duke in 2004, and Dallas made Fowler the lowest qualifying offer for a restricted free agent, a one-year deal at $850,000, the Cowboys will receive no compensation from the Titans.

Fowler came close to signing an offer sheet with Philadelphia on Sunday and, in fact, the Eagles dispatched an e-mail to national media members announcing that he had agreed to terms. As it turned out, Fowler never signed the offer sheet with the Eagles, and on Monday he decided to sign with Tennessee instead.

In three seasons, Fowler has appeared in 32 games and started just three contests. He has 49 tackles from scrimmage, two forced fumbles and one recovery. For the most part, Fowler served as a backup inside linebacker in the Dallas 3-4 scheme. On special teams, he posted 28 tackles and had one forced fumble.

The Tennessee coaches feel that Fowler can challenge for the starting job at middle linebacker.

Securing the services of restricted free agents historically has proven a difficult undertaking with the current system. In the 14 previous years of free agency, only 55 restricted free agents changed teams. Four restricted free agents changed teams in 2006.

But Fowler is the third restricted free agent to change teams already this year. One restricted free agent, wide receiver Wes Welker, was actually traded from Miami to New England. Earlier on Friday, the Cincinnati Bengals declined to match a four-year offer sheet that defensive tackle Shaun Smith signed with the Cleveland Browns last week.

In another Friday move, the Titans signed unrestricted free agent wide receiver Justin Gage, a four-year veteran who had spent his entire career with the Chicago Bears. A fifth-round choice in the 2003 draft, Gage has appeared in 49 games and started 16 of them. The former Missouri standout has 64 receptions for 908 yards and four touchdowns.

Contract details were not immediately available.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com