Jadeveon Clowney was arguably the top free agent long before the NFL opened its free agency period in March as an edge rusher set to make over $20 million a year based on teams' constant need for premier pass rushers. Nearly two months later, Clowney remains without a team for the 2020 season.
Granted, 2020 has been a strange year with players unable to visit team facilities due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, even though that hasn't halted teams signing any other of the top players on the market. So why hasn't Clowney been able to find a team?
Clowney commanded a high price to begin with, and who could blame him given how much defensive ends were getting paid over the past few years? If there was any free agent set to eclipse the $100 million mark this offseason, it was Clowney. Unfortunately for the former Seahawk and Texan, the largest contract given to a defensive player was Byron Jones' $82.5 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill did surpass $100 million, but he re-signed with the Tennessee Titans and was given franchise quarterback money -- a different class than Clowney.
The edge rusher market wasn't all that strong, which led to Robert Quinn earning $14 million per year with the Chicago Bears ($70 million total) and Dante Fowler Jr. getting $15 million per year with the Atlanta Falcons ($45 million total). Certainly Clowney was expected to get more than those players based on his age and pedigree.
Turns out, a nagging core muscle injury that led to a unproductive year (in terms of sacks) have hurt Clowney's demands. Clowney finished with 31 tackles, three sacks, four forced fumbles, 13 quarterback hits and 47 pressures in 13 games last season, which may be why teams have shied away from the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end. Clowney has lowered his asking price and is willing to accept a short-term deal in order to build up his value, but no teams are pushing to sign him.
Why aren't teams willing to take a chance on Clowney? Depends on the franchise, even though each of Clowney's interested suitors () could use the talented edge rusher on their roster.
We'll take a dive into each of the teams reportedly interested in Clowney and why they should and shouldn't sign him.
Why they should sign Clowney: The Eagles have reportedly been interested in Clowney, which makes sense given they could use the improvements in the pass rush and have enough cap space to sign him to a one-year deal. If Clowney is looking to bolster his stock and test the free agent market in a year, the Eagles are a great fit.
Philadelphia has one of the game's most underrated defensive ends in Brandon Graham, and Derek Barnett posted a career-high in sacks last season (six), but there are question marks at the position. Barnett has been ravaged by injuries and inconsistent play since Philadelphia took him in the first round of the 2017 draft, so having a reliable edge rusher opposite the 32-year-old Graham would be vital. The Eagles don't have much depth behind Barnett and Graham, even though Josh Sweat has proven to be a reliable rotational piece.
Philadelphia also traded a 2021 fourth-round pick for Genard Avery (who had four sacks in 2018 but didn't see much time with the Eagles) and spent a 2019 fourth-round pick on Shareef Miller -- not really proven options if any of the top three edge rushers go down. There's incentive to go sign Clowney based on how valuable the pass rush is to Jim Schwartz's defense.
Per Over The Cap, the Eagles have the seventh-most cap space in the league at $23,547,404. They have enough to give Clowney a one-year deal with an option for a second year, which would be a win-win for both parties. In case you're worried how Carson Wentz would react to the team signing Clowney (who knocked Wentz out of the Eagles' playoff loss last year with a questionable hit), the Eagles quarterback appears to be in favor of such a move.
Why they shouldn't sign Clowney: The Eagles have more to think about than 2020 here, as they have to find ways to get out of cap hell for 2021. They're projected to be $50,658,273 over the salary cap heading into next offseason, by far the worst situation in the NFL. Signing Clowney to a multi-year deal wouldn't help the Eagles get out of that. Even if Philadelphia cuts ties with Barnett, Alshon Jeffery, and Marquise Goodwin, that's only $25,028,000 saved -- the Eagles still would have a long way to go. Philadelphia would have to bring Clowney in on a one-year deal for this to work.
The Eagles want to see what they have in Sweat, Avery, and Miller, whose roles would be significantly reduced if Clowney were to join the roster. Sweat is a valuable rotational piece but wouldn't see many snaps as a No. 4 defensive end while Avery and Miller would only see notable snaps if an injury occurred. The Eagles would have basically wasted 2019 and 2021 fourth-round picks if neither player can get on the field.
Malik Jackson can also line up at defensive end if the Eagles want to get all three of their defensive tackles on the field after signing Javon Hargrave in the offseason, so that comes into play as well. The defensive tackles would be fresher later in the season with a Clowney addition, but Jackson and Hargrave would see limited snaps as a result. Hard to justify that when the Eagles invested so much in both players over the past two years.
Why they should sign Clowney: The Titans, who have been Jurrell Casey to the Denver Broncos for a seventh-round pick. While Tennessee loses Casey rotating inside and out on the defensive line, Jack Crawford isn't enough to fill the void.the most since free agency started, have $21,459,301 remaining in salary cap space, which is plenty of room to sign the star edge rusher. Tennessee tied for 13th in the NFL with 43 sacks last season but sent five-time Pro Bowler
The Titans could put Clowney in Crawford's role, but Clowney would also provide an immediate boost in a 3-4 scheme as an edge rusher and linebacker. Tennessee is taking a low-risk flier on Vic Beasley (another inconsistent pass rusher) here, even though Clowney would be a gradual improvement. Having Clowney and 2019 first-round pick Jeffery Simmons (two sacks in nine regular season games) would significantly bolster the team's pass rush.
Tennessee also has a projected $54,076,282 available in cap space for 2021, so there's plenty of incentive to give Clowney a two-year deal. Being familiar with the AFC South is also a bonus.
Why they shouldn't sign Clowney: This is similar to the Eagles' situation with Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat. Tennessee has to see how Simmons plays a full year removed from a torn ACL following a solid rookie season. The Titans also signed Beasley in hopes of a career resurgence on a one-year deal, even though the former Falcon is four years removed from leading the NFL with 15.5 sacks. Tennessee gave Beasley $9.5 million, so it's unlikely they'd plan to sit him for Clowney.
There may just not be enough room at the inn for Clowney, even though he bolsters the Titans' pass rush and is an excellent run stopper. If his price lowers even more, perhaps the Titans pounce. Simmons may ultimately be the reason why Tennessee passes.
Why they should sign Clowney: Cleveland has plenty of financial incentive to get a deal done with Clowney due to their $38,450,174 in available salary cap space in 2020 and a projected $35,479,177 in 2021. The Browns could actually give him a deal north of $20 million if they chose and still have plenty of cap space to roll over if they were to sign him to a multi-year deal.
If Cleveland were to sign Clowney, the Browns could save even more cap space by cutting ties with Olivier Vernon and saving $15.5 million in cap space. They could meet Clowney's initial demands on a short-term deal and bolster a pass rush that finished 20th in sacks (38). Pairing him with Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett would be a lethal combination for Cleveland.
There isn't much depth at defensive end for Cleveland, although the Browns did sign Adrian Clayborn as added depth on the edge. Clayborn would still keep his role if the Browns were to sign Clowney and cut Vernon, but would still earn valuable snaps if his playing time was reduced.
Cleveland also had the 30th-ranked run defense last season, which Clowney would definitely improve. He's one of the best run-stopping edge rushers in the league, a very underrated part of his game. Garrett is also one boneheaded move away from being suspended indefinitely again. Better for the Browns to cover their tracks in case that happens.
Why they shouldn't sign Clowney: The Browns do need a pass rusher that can get sacks opposite of Garrett, which isn't a guarantee Clowney can provide. Clowney racks up the pressures, but has never recorded a double-digit sack season in his six years in the league (32 sacks in six seasons). Do the Browns really want to pay another large contract to an underperforming edge rusher?
Cleveland also has a good rotational end in Chad Thomas that would significantly lose playing time if Clowney were to sign, especially if the Browns keep Vernon. Clayborn's role likely wouldn't be affected, but Thomas (a 2018 third-round pick) could be shuffled down the depth chart. The Browns may actually want to give Thomas more snaps behind Garrett and Vernon if they choose to roll with what they have.
Why they should sign Clowney: The Seahawks are familiar with how Clowney can change a game, as evidenced by his production in the playoffs last season. He made an impact in Seattle's playoff victory over Philadelphia by getting Carson Wentz out of the game and finishing with a sack and two tackles for loss, followed by a half-sack in the divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
How good would Clowney be as a 4-3 edge rusher with Seattle if healthy? Having a full year in the Seahawks system would pay huge dividends as well, and it's certainly possible we'd see his sack numbers rise. Plus he would still get to play for a contender. It's a win-win for Seattle and Clowney.
Why they shouldn't sign Clowney: Seattle appears to have moved on from Clowney with their offseason moves, bringing back Bruce Irvin and signing Benson Mayowa in free agency while selecting Darrell Taylor in Round 2 and Alton Robinson in Round 5 of the draft. This comes one year after selecting L.J. Collier in the first round in 2019. Seattle has plenty of depth at defensive end, even if they could use Clowney as an established starter. It also doesn't help Everson Griffen is still on the market and comes at a cheaper price.
Seattle has $21,340,582 in available cap space, but may want to use that money elsewhere. A cheaper price for Clowney doesn't appear to be moving the needle in the Seahawks' favor. Seattle can easily sign him to a multi-year deal, but may actually look to move on. Having Clowney in the building for a year may have actually hindered his chances at a return.
The Browns could use Clowney more than any of these teams above, which is why the pros outweigh the cons. Based on his athleticism and how he can change a defense, it's pretty incredible how he's still on the market. The core muscle injury may have something to do with it, but the lack of sacks with the Seahawks last season and over his career may also have steered teams away from adding the talented edge rusher on a high price tag.
Each of these teams would be instantly better with Clowney on board, but it takes two to tango. The first team that can give Clowney the best opportunity to cash in free agency in a year or two will likely be the team to get his services for 2020.