The Houston Texans made Jadeveon Clowney the first-overall pick in the 2014 draft. After the 2017 season, Houston picked up the fifth-year option on Clowney’s contract and placed the franchise tag on him after 2018.
Despite plenty of available salary cap space, the Texans never came to a long-term contract extension with the former top pick. Before the 2019 seasons, Houston sent him to Seattle for an underwhelming return of Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo and a third-round pick.
While Clowney figures to be a coveted commodity in free agency, it’s noteworthy that the team who invested the top pick in the draft on him didn’t come to terms on a contract extension and was willing to part with him for a couple of backup linebackers and a late Day 2 pick.
Clowney has enjoyed a good career to this point, but not quite the impact expected for the first pick in the draft. Injuries have been problematic and Clowney has averaged 5.3 sacks per season across his six years in the league. Only twice has he registered more than six sacks. With that said, Clowney has been a dominant run defender and he applies fairly steady pressure when rushing the passer.
Could Clowney find himself on his third team in as many years? There’s a lot to consider.
Where He Wins
Clowney is a versatile defender that can execute from numerous alignments within the front seven and make plays against the run and pass. He has long arms, heavy hands, explosive burst and has developed wonderful processing skills to take advantage of his physical gifts.
Speaking of physical gifts, Clowney has rare traits as evidenced by his performance at the combine. Measuring 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds, Clowney has 34.5-inch arms and 10-inch hands while posting the following testing results:
- 4.53-second 40-yard dash (98th percentile for defensive ends)
- 1.56-second 10-yard split (93rd percentile)
- 37.5-inch vertical jump (90th percentile)
- 124-inch standing broad jump (91st percentile)
Clowney has dynamic burst that makes him a challenge for blockers to keep pace with. That, combined with his length and power, enables him to power through gaps and make plays near the line of scrimmage.
Potential Red Flags
After investing pick one on Clowney, the Houston Texans spent five years around their prized prospect but couldn’t retain him for the long haul. They knew him best and opted against meeting his demands despite plenty of resources and failed to acquire meaningful assets in return via trade. A big part of that is likely due to his alarming injury history.
In 2014, Clowney played through a sports hernia during his last season at South Carolina and underwent surgery in June. He missed a week of training camp due to a concussion in August and then underwent surgery for a torn lateral meniscus in his knee in September. Clowney missed the last five games in 2014 dealing with complications from his September surgery to repair a torn meniscus. In December, Clownery had microfracture surgery in his knee.
In 2015, Clowney suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain, lower lumbar sprain in his back and a lisfranc sprain spanning from October through December.
In 2016, Clowney suffered an elbow sprain in December. Clowney underwent arthroscopic surgery in his knee following the 2016 season and another arthroscopic knee surgery after the 2017 season. He missed time with a lower back injury in 2018. He played through a core muscle injury in 2019 with the Seahawks and had surgery in January.
Clowney is only 27 years old, but his injury history is extensive.
In addition to his concerning injuries, Clowney is annually among the most penalized defensive players in football. He’s been flagged on 54 occasions in his career which is 22 more times than he’s sacked an opposing quarterback. Over the last four seasons, Clowney has been flagged seven more times than the next highest defensive player.
Spotrac estimates Clowney will receive an average salary of $20 million, referencing the recent contracts for DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Trey Flower and Za’Darius Smith as comparable situations.
That’s a hefty price tag for a pass rusher that has never produced double-digit sacks, has red flags galore with his medical history and can’t stop committing penalties. While Clowney can be a difference-maker on the field, the length of the contract and incentives will likely be major factors in negotiations with potential suitors.
Potential Landing Spots
Clowney has a clear vision when it comes to his next team.
“I want to get that Super Bowl, by any means. That’s what I’m looking for. Who’s going to get me there? I’m not looking to get on no sorry team for no money. That ain’t gonna fly. I’m not going to fight through all that just to lose 16 games and go home with my check. I hate that. That ain’t what I’m doing. If I can’t do that – I’m not going to no team that can’t win.
With that in mind, here are some logical destinations.
If Seattle doesn’t bring back Clowney, a massive need is created at defensive end. With a season together, the organization and Clowney should have a feel for each other and Seattle is projected to have over $50 million in available cap space. Seattle has been a playoff team in seven of the last eight seasons and Russell Wilson gives them a chance to make a deep playoff run every year. Staying in Seattle makes plenty of sense.
The strength of the Tennessee Titans roster is its defense so investing into the unit to keep it that way makes sense. The Titans have an exciting edge rusher in Harold Landry but he needs a counterpart. For a Tennessee defense that is multiple by alignment, Clowney is an exciting chess piece the Titans could insert. Projected to have over $50 million in available cap space, the Titans are in position to get a deal done.
With a projected $31 million in available cap space, the Baltimore Ravens don’t have as much flexibility as others in contention for Clowney but he could fill an important need, especially if Matt Judon isn’t retained. The Ravens are a blitz-heavy defense that could use more organic pressure which Clowney can provide. Clowney wants to play for a contender and Baltimore had the best record in football last season.