Pass-rush specialist and versatile defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most intriguing free agents in the 2022 market. Clowney experienced a resurgent season with the Cleveland Browns in 2021 by recording an impressive nine sacks in 14 appearances, which was half-a-sack shy of his career-high 9.5 quarterback takedowns accumulated in 2018. Clowney took full advantage of the opportunities presented to him, as opposing offensive lines consistently shifted their attention to Myles Garrett.
Clowney now prepares to enter free agency after rehabbing a reputation that took a hit after a nightmarish zero-sack season with the Tennessee Titans in 2020, despite previously playing well under head coach Mike Vrabel in Houston. Clowney will certainly look to capitalize on his impressive 2021 season by hoping to secure a long-term deal on the open market.
Predicting what Clowney will do is a difficult exercise. He's played for four different teams over the past four seasons after signing back-to-back one-year deals with the Titans and Browns in 2020 and 2021. Clowney typically takes his time while closely analyzing his options, as his last two contracts have been signed in September and April, respectively.
Should the Browns fail to retain Clowney's services, we've identified three free agent fits for the former No. 1 overall selection.
Could an exciting reunion occur? Clowney was traded from the Texans to the Seahawks in a multi-player blockbuster deal that also included draft picks ahead of the 2019 season. The Seahawks thrived with Clowney on their defensive line. Seattle finished 11-5 and won a playoff game before crashing out in the divisional round at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in a thrilling 28-23 game.
Clowney recorded three sacks, one interception, 13 quarterback hits, and forced a career-high four fumbles while also scoring two defensive touchdowns in 13 regular-season appearances as a Seahawk. Clowney added another 1.5 sacks in two postseason contests. Clowney's sack totals appear low on the surface, but he brought some much-needed versatility to a Seahawks defensive line that previously struggled to apply pressure on the quarterback.
The Seahawks were very much interested in retaining Clowney's services in the summer of 2020 prior to his decision to take his talents to Nashville to play for Vrabel. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll remains in Seattle and holds fond memories of coaching Clowney in 2019. The Seahawks also find themselves in an excellent position against the cap. They're currently slated to enter free agency with more than $36 million in financial flexibility, via Spotrac.
Upgrading a pass rush that recorded just 34 sacks in 17 regular-season contests will be a priority for Carroll and general manager John Schneider. The resurgent Clowney could find himself donning a familiar uniform in 2022.
The Atlanta Falcons were by far the worst pass-rushing team in the NFL in 2021. The Falcons accumulated an abysmal league-low 18 sacks in 17 regular-season contests. The Philadelphia Eagles, who finished second from the bottom in total sacks, recorded 11 more sacks (29) than the Falcons did. General manager Terry Fontenot just released veteran pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. on Wednesday after Fowler led the team in sacks with 4.5 quarterback takedowns in 2021. The Falcons must find several upgrades across their defensive line this offseason, and we do mean several.
Fontenot and the Falcons will almost certainly draft a high-upside pass rusher in April, but their pass-rushing woes are so exposed that it will take more than a single rookie to solve these issues. The Falcons are currently above the cap by several million but can create more than $10 million in additional space by restructuring the contract of quarterback Matt Ryan. An extension for dominant defensive lineman Grady Jarrett could also free up several million.
Veteran cuts and trades are also surely on the horizon, as the futures of Calvin Ridley, Mike Davis, and Deion Jones loom large and hang in the balance. The Falcons will be able to afford a veteran pass rusher after making several of these moves. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was on Tennessee's coaching staff in 2020 while crossing paths with Clowney, so the familiarity is already in place. The Falcons could be serious players for Clowney in free agency.
It's time for Colts general manager Chris Ballard to begin spending some money in free agency. The Colts have routinely possessed a plethora of cap space in recent years, but Ballard has preferred to build his team via the draft while being particularly frugal with Indianapolis' well-to-do financial situation. Holding onto that money hasn't served the Colts handsomely in recent years, as the Titans have captured back-to-back AFC South titles while the Colts disappointingly missed the postseason altogether in 2021.
The Colts currently own more than $37 million in cap space, via Spotrac. That ranks them inside the top-10 of available money heading into the new league year. Upgrading a pass-rushing unit that managed to secure just 33 sacks in 2021 must take priority for Ballard throughout the offseason.
Few teams recorded fewer sacks than the Colts did, and it's an area that must improve defensively in 2022. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley replaces Matt Eberflus, who became the new head coach of the Chicago Bears. Bradley arrives in Indianapolis with a fantastic defensive reputation, and will almost certainly demand the signing of various defensive players as he attempts to implement his hard-nosed system. Bradley initially rose through the coaching ranks nearly a decade ago after installing a defensive system and culture in Seattle, where Clowney would thrive in a versatile role several years later. Bradley and Clowney have never crossed paths on the same team, but Bradley is plenty familiar with his talents after serving as Jacksonville's head coach throughout a portion of Clowney's tenure in Houston.
It's time for Ballard to open up his wallet. Clowney should be identified as a prime candidate.