RENTON — A trade to Seattle not only is a fresh start for Jadeveon Clowney — the term he used when he met with reporters Monday after his first practice with the Seahawks — it’s also a return to his roots.
Because he had not signed his franchise tag, Clowney essentially had veto power on where the Houston Texans could attempt to trade him.
And among the factors that drew him to Seattle — a winning team with an elite quarterback, what he heard about the atmosphere from close friend and former Houston teammate Duane Brown, a city he thinks he will enjoy — is the Seahawks’ defensive scheme.
Seattle intends to use Clowney as a defensive end in its 4-3 defense, and probably mostly as its rush end LEO position but also as a five-technique end, which is what Clowney played at South Carolina, where he excelled enough that he became the first choice in the 2014 NFL draft.
With Houston, however, he played in a 3-4. And while the scheme was altered enough in his last few years there that he began to thrive and make it to three consecutive Pro Bowls, Clowney said he was never totally comfortable.
“They run a 4-3 here,’’ Clowney said when listing off the reasons he liked Seattle. “I haven’t been in that system for a while. That played a big part of it.’’
Clowney played both defensive end and linebacker with Houston, playing enough of the latter that he was officially listed as a linebacker when the team placed a franchise tag on him. That became one of the many bones of contention between Clowney and Houston as that designation meant he will make about $1.2 million less this season than had he been listed as a defensive end.
Houston’s system and its use of him as a linebacker meant that Clowney had to at times drop into pass coverage. That’s among the many things he’s hoping to now leave in the past.
“I get to get back in there going vertical and not dropping and just really putting my head down and grinding,’’ Clowney said. “When you are going forward, you don’t think about a lot, so that’s the best thing about this defense is you’ve got guys behind you who can make all the plays and the guys up front, we get moving and get going and cause havoc. So that’s what I like about this.’’
According to Pro Football Focus, Clowney had 29 snaps in pass coverage in 2018.
But even if that might not sound like a lot, it was more that Clowney had to worry about it at all that was an issue.
“Coming out of college it was very, very different for me, coming from a 4-3 to a 3-4,’’ he said of Houston’s defense. “Now that I’m here I just know for a fact that I’m going forward. So I can put on as much weight as I want and get going.’’
Clowney is listed at 255 pounds by the Seahawks, the weight he was listed at last year by Houston. But he was listed at 266 at the NFL combine in 2014, when he ran a 4.53 40.
And it’s that combination of added weight and speed off the edge that the Seahawks figure to make the most use of, relying on the secondary and linebackers — all three of Seattle’s starters are regarded as especially good in pass coverage — to handle any covering of the tight end, which Clowney said was the main thing he had to sometimes do at Houston.
“He’s made a lot of plays in the backfield over the years and instinctive plays penetrating and causing problems, and we plan to allow him to do that in our scheme and it will fit really well with what we’re doing,’’ Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We saw a great fit whether it’s early downs or third-down stuff. So he’s pretty much what you are looking for.’’
Clowney, who had a career-high 9½ sacks in 2017 and nine in 2018, desires a 4-3 not just because it might be more fun and a better fit, but also because it figures to be the best way for him to show exactly how much he is worth.
Clowney became available because Houston wasn’t ready to commit the kind of contract Clowney wanted, leading to the franchise tag, then the team’s desire to the trade him. With Clowney not signing the tag he was then basically getting to call the shots on where he wanted to go because he couldn’t be traded without signing the tag.
Carroll said the negotiations went “right down to the nub’’ of the 1 p.m. deadline Saturday to set the team’s 53-man roster before it was approved, due to the overall complexity of the deal, which included getting traded Seattle players Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin to Houston for their physicals.
It was an effort Carroll said started months ago when the Seahawks realized Clowney might be available — it’s easy to wonder now if Seattle all along figured it might be able to in essence replace Frank Clark with Clowney. Certainly, the trade of Clark meant Seattle had a lot more desire to go after Clowney to try to replace the 13 sacks Clark had last season.
“(Seahawks general manager) John (Schneider) has been on this for as long as it’s been even available to maybe happen,’’ said Carroll of Clowney, who, as Clark, received a franchise tag last March. “To me, this is a classic example of competing at every turn.’’
Among the factors in getting the deal done was Seattle agreeing not to tag Clowney following this season, assuring he either signs a long-term deal with the Seahawks or becomes an unrestricted free agent.
“Is it a factor?’’ Carroll said of the agreement, which is apparently the first time in 11 years a team has agreed not to franchise a player who already has been slapped with a tag. “Yeah, it was part of the negotiation.’’
But what it also means is that Clowney knows he is playing this season for his future — either to convince Seattle he is worth a deal that could top $21 million a year or so and make him the highest-paid 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, or convince another team.
Both Carroll and Clowney said they’d worry about the future later. But both also know it’s there.
Clowney, 26, said he worked out in both Miami and Houston this summer and Carroll said it was evident during practice Monday — the first football action for Clowney since Houston lost in a wild-card playoff game last January — that he had put in the time.
“There’s no question he’s in really good shape,’’ said Carroll, who said Clowney will play Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. “He would tell you that he put together the best offseason that he ever had. He was really motivated to come to camp and prove that he was valuable and worth it and all that kind of stuff. Not getting the chance (in Houston) we kind of see the benefit of that.’’
Clowney sees benefit in Seattle, as well. And if each side gets what it wants in the end, all the better.