Texans star Jadeveon Clowney is headed to a battle with the team over his 2019 franchise tag designation amount, league sources said, with the sides not expected to come to a long-term agreement before February's window to utilize the tag and a difference of opinion over Clowney's position.
Clowney, the first pick in the 2014 draft, has emerged as a premier disruptor on his rookie contract and, with so little young pass-rushing talent ever hitting the open market, he would be the prize of the 2019 free-agent class if he were to be available. The Texans intend to apply the tag; Clowney will argue that he should receive the amount for defensive ends (projected to be worth more than $17M), while the team will contend that he should be tagged as a linebacker (roughly $15M).
These arbitration hearings are not unprecedented (Jimmy Graham lost his fight to be tagged as a wide receiver and not a tight end, for instance) by any means. The Texans officially list Clowney as a linebacker in their materials and the NFL's official game books list him each week as a linebacker on the playing-time report. However, in the system that can be fluid and in an era of hybrid defenders moving around on the edge, Clowney will maintain he is more of a defensive end.
While Clowney has battled injuries and lost much of his rookie season to health problems, he has become a very impactful player when on the field. He is just outside the top 20 in total sacks since the start of the 2015 season (25.5 in 51 games), but his 35 stuffs are tied with Aaron Donald for most in the NFL, and his 55 tackles for a loss rank fifth in that span. This season he ranks tied for 10th in the NFL with 36 quarterback knockdowns and hurries, and his import to the Texans defense cannot be overstated.
J.J. Watt has battled serious injury issues – though healthy this season – and Whitney Mercilus is not the same force he once was. Clowney would be the lynchpin to moving this defense forward, but signing him long-term will be an incredibly expensive proposition (even with his injury history) and the first stage of that effort will include the pending grievance over his 2019 franchise amount.