Houston Texans star defender Jadeveon Clowney has still not signed the franchise tag, and rumors are swirling that a trade could happen very soon. Because of Houston’s lack of a general manager, the entire Clowney situation has been mishandled.
From initially attempting to classify him as a linebacker rather than a defensive end in order to save $2 million, to not trading him before the July 15th tender deadline, the Texans are not in a good spot. They may have to settle for a fraction of what Clowney is worth as a player, rather than risk him walking in free agency after the season. Here are five teams that could be landing spots for the disruptive DL.
Before taking a look at prospective teams, we first need to examine the situation to determine what Clowney’s trade value is right now. Depending on the outcome of the grievance he filed against Houston, Clowney’s franchise tag salary for 2019 will be either $15.4 million or $17.1 million. A high price to be sure, but he’s worth paying it. He is dominant against the run and very good against the pass. His numbers may not jump off the stat sheet, but his impact on games can’t be fully quantified in the box score.
Clowney can effective dictate where he plays next season, since he isn’t currently under contract. If the Texans agree to a trade and Clowney doesn’t like the situation he’s going to, he just won’t sign the tag, and no deal would happen. Because Clowney didn’t sign the franchise tag before July 15th, no team can negotiate a contract with him until next year. This means that any team trading for him would be taking a huge risk, as Clowney could just walk after the season.
Of course, if that happens, that team would not have to pay him long-term (he’ll command a high price on the market) and would still gain a likely third-round compensatory pick. Also, because Clowney has accumulated four seasons in his career, he could pull a Le’Veon Bell, sit out the entire 2019 season, and still be an unrestricted free agent next offseason,
So a possible suitor has to meet one or more of these requirements:
1. Willing to take on Clowney’s $15-$17 million cap hit for 2019
2. Willing to pay him long-term
3. Willing to let him go and recoup a comp pick
4. Willing to take the risk that he will walk after the season
5. Willing to part with draft more valuable than a comp pick for a player who may very well be on the team for only one season
From the Texans point of view, if they are confident that Clowney won’t play for them in 2019 and will just sign elsewhere in 2020, then a trade makes all the sense in the world, as long as they are able to get something of higher value than the projected comp pick.
With all that said, there are multiple teams who could be a Clowney away from being serious Super Bowl contenders.
5. New Orleans Saints
During the first round of the 2018 draft, the Saints gave up their 2019 first-rounder in order to move up to select pass rusher Marcus Davenport, a great physical talent who needed time to develop. In 13 games as a rookie, he logged 4.5 sacks and 12 QB hits. Not the kind of instant impact a win-now team like the Saints needed.
Davenport may end up becoming a very good player, but the Saints could really use a player of Clowney’s caliber opposite of Cameron Jordan. New Orleans has just $8 million in cap space, as well as over $16 million in dead money, so taking on Clowney’s salary could prove to be difficult.
However, involving guard Andrus Peat (who has been on the trade block for a while) in a deal would work salary-wise. Peat, even though is not a great player, would certainly be an upgrade on Houston’s porous offensive line. The Saints would get an obvious great return.
The Chiefs traded Dee Ford, their best pass rusher, to the San Francisco 49ers, then turned around and traded for Seattle’s Frank Clark and signed him to a huge contract. The Chiefs were an offsides penalty away from making the Super Bowl last season, so it makes sense for them to go all-in while Patrick Mahomes is still on his rookie contract. The Chiefs over $25 million in cap space at the moment, which is plenty to absorb Clowney. A defensive line that features Clowney, Clark, and Chris Jones is absolutely horrifying, and oh by the way, KC has the NFL’s best offense. Because the Chiefs still have to extend Jones, Clowney would be a rental. But if it ends in a Super Bowl appearance, it’s a move worth making.
After a great 2016 season, it appears as if the league has figured out Vic Beasley Jr. He has just 13 QB hits over the past two seasons, and while the Falcons did pick up his fifth-year option, it’s unlikely they will re-sign him. But he is making nearly $13 million this season, which combined with Atlanta’s $3.6 million in cap space, should be enough to cover Clowney’s franchise tag salary. Grady Jarrett is an elite rusher from the DT spot, and Takk McKinley is a good young player on the edge, but the Falcons would greatly benefit from having Clowney on the line.
The Eagles have over $20 million in cap space and is primed for another playoff run with a healthy Carson Wentz. The Eagles traded Michael Bennett to the Patriots, which leaves leaves a big hole for a defensive lineman who can play multiple positions. That’s where Clowney would be a huge help. He’d rotate with Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett outside, as well as Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson inside.
For all intents and purposes, NFL teams need three playable DTs and DEs, in order to rotate them in and out to keep them fresh and to reduce the risk of injury. While Clowney’s snap count would likely decrease, he’d still be able to make high-impact plays for the Eagles, whether he’s playing DT, DE, or OLB.
Even after signing Justin Houston and Devin Funchess among others, Indy still has over $45 million in cap space, so money won’t be an issue. They would benefit from adding an elite EDGE like Clowney for 2019, but also present a great situation for him to sign long-term.
The Colts also have backup tackle Joe Haeg, who would almost certainly start for the Texans. The issue is that these two teams are divisional rivals, which makes a deal less likely. But Indianapolis still appears to be the best trading partner for the Texans, whether it happens or not.
In closing, any of the Chiefs, Colts, Eagles, Falcons or Saints would be better off having him, but cost matters.